Archive for November, 2016

Typewriters, Writing a Social History of Urban India

November 30, 2016

Here is an  excerpt from With Great Truth and Regards, a forthcoming book on the social history of the typewriter. It is edited by Sidharth Bhatia and published by Godrej.

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Non-Brahmin priests for Karnataks’s state-run temples..

November 30, 2016

This is a week old news which got lost in the demonetisation tide.

The secret world of temples and their caretakers are just a fascinating social history.

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India’s Demonetisation: Seigniorage and Cantillon Effects

November 30, 2016

Larry White and Shruti Rajagopalan have a superb piece highlighting the Cantillon effects of demonetisation.

The Cantillon effects are named after 18th Century economist Richard Cantillon. But then who reads history or cares for it. Under this, monetary policy transfers the purchasing power from those having old notes to those who get the new notes. This will lead to disproportionate rise in prices among different goods in an economy:

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The Swiss private bankers should be a model for bankers everywhere (and the lost Indian ones)…

November 30, 2016

Mention Swiss banking and we either have the image of them as hiding wealth of uber rich across the world or the UBses of the world. But the region also has a much lower profile and glamorous set of bankers called Swiss Private bankers.  They are these century old bankers which have held the principles of banking for a long time.

Marcia Christoff-Kurapovna writes about these bankers:

The strong showing in banking stocks may show some optimism following the presidential election victory of Donald Trump. But, a healthy future for US banking will only take root if that industry comes to terms with the original purpose for which banking was intended — wealth management. As such, the great American bank in generations to come will not be of the calamitous Wells Fargo or Bank of America type — or even Facebook’s Electronic Money Institution license or Google’s Mobile Wallet. The most solid banks will be remakes of that timeless classic, the Swiss private banker. It is this “back to the future” philosophy of banking, already prevalent in some of the past decade’s best performing and least known banks in the US, that must become predominant if that sector is to remain resilient……

The focus instead must be on the cultivation of localized, community-centered but nationally ambitious banks that one rarely reads about amid the stories of pointless bail-outs, fake-account scandals, ZIRP, and robo-trading. Superbly managed and often family-owned, these banks profited throughout the post-crisis period, enduring regulatory mayhem, Fed mission-creep, and the rise of ‘alternative banking” fintech and mobile-app technologies. They did it by sticking to sound fiscal fundamentals and never underestimating the “psychological” preference on the part of the public for sturdy institutions whose owners or managers are members or descendants of that founding banking family itself. Though PriceWaterhouseCoopers gloomily predicted that traditional banking would not survive beyond 2025, it is precisely highly successful banks like Beal Bank of Dallas, Texas, or the 100 year-old Bank of Fayette County in Tennessee, that will be the only banks to survive the next decades and beyond.

These Private Bankers are not Private banks:

To understand the real next-generation banking, let us look to the forefather role model that embodies the very best of ultra-traditional banking principles: Switzerland’s national legend, the unlimited liability banquier.No American bank, including the two examples mentioned above, follow this ‘severe’ Swiss model. Still, such Geneva, Zürich, and Basel-based aristocratic workhorses in the art of wealth management and no-frills (not even on-line) banking are the kinds of institutions where money still means gold and Ms. Yellen’s machinations an amusing, yet comfortably distant, American curiosity.

First off, a nuance of definition. The expression is “Swiss private banker,” and not “private bank,” or “private banking.” This first refers to a very specific institution, defined by 1934 Swiss law and, as an expression (“Swiss private banker”), is a registered trademark. These are not UBS- or Credit Suisse-type banks (which are, for all intents and purposes, American banks), nor simply lesser-known tax-evasion vehicles shrouded in glamorous secrecy. Instead, the term refers to a narrowly defined privileged few “houses,” often centuries old and almost always still family owned, that, by law, must adhere to unheard-of (on these shores) personal liability among their partners and high reserve requirements, among other standards. Indeed, in the last three years alone, the number of these banks has dwindled from twelve to six, as pressures from the global economic crisis forced several of them into limited liability companies. 

They are in a class of their own, synonymous with unbounded responsibility. The six remaining are: Baumann et Cie.; Bordier et Cie.; E. Gutzwiller et Cie; Mouge d’Algue et Cie; Rahn & Bodner; and Reichmuth & Co. “Private bankers” as these are: (1) exclusively organized in the legal form of a partnership or limited partnership; (2) run by partners who are usually family descendants of the banks’ founders; (3) invest their own capital in their banks and maintain high cash reserve ratios; (4) defined by a special private-banker status that is dependent upon the presence within management of one or several partners with unlimited liability for investment obligations. This last is their greatest distinction. Other Swiss banks offer wealth management services but their maximum liability is confined to equity capital. With private bankers, liability is not solely limited to the company equity, but partners are additionally liable with their private assets.

Thus, their primary duty is to their clients, to their own families, and to their own vested responsibilities — a quaint notion these days, to be sure. They are run by a flat management structure; decision-making chains are short; they do not develop their own products and are therefore not subject to any conflicts of interest in investment advice. Investments must be tradable and liquid at all times; bankers can’t act as brokers and they are not on-line banks. They are not allowed to sell their own instruments, tend not to invest in global real estate, and, as mentioned before, have strict rules on reserves.

India too had these bankers which were called as indigenous bankers. They were called as Shroffs, Multanis, Marwaris, Chettiars and so on. But they have all disappeared from the mainstream banking scene. They were mostly given bad names by the media and experts alike failing to look at how some of them actually excelled in banking for many years and even centuries. Some of them like Chettiars in Madras even used their banking skills  to form joint stock banks like Indian Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Karur Vysya Bank and Laxmi Vilas Bank and so on.

There was this tiff between the Government/RBI and Indian Private Bankers. The former wanted them to be regulated as per banking regulations which latter refused as they found the regulations highly restrictive and so on. Till the 1970s there were efforts between the two but now we hardly hear about them.

Demonetisation 2016: Meet Bengaluru’s Bunty aur Babli

November 29, 2016

This is one of the most interesting stories that have emerged from Demonetisation 2016. How a couple planned a heist and almost pulled it off. It has great similarities to the Bollywood movie Bunty aur Babli.

Bunty was a driver of one of the cash vans and ran away with the cash. He then moved different towns with the new cash along with Babli. They were ahead of the police on most occasions and then Babli gave up due to Police pressure. Bunty continues to abscond and  ACP Dashrath Singh is on the trail to catch him..

 

Estimation of the size of the Black Economy in India, 1996-2012

November 29, 2016

As we confuse terms like Black money,Black income, Black wealth and so on, time to read some experts.

Prof Arun Kumar of JNU has a paper looking at size of black economy in 1996-2012:

This article attempts to make an advance in the estimation of the size of the black economy in India by bringing in the institutional aspects of black income generation and taking the macroeconomic variables they affect into consideration. It is not a one-point study, as earlier studies based on the fiscal approach have been. Unlike studies based on the monetarist approach, the fiscal approach recognises that black incomes are generated through many different ways in different sectors of the economy. Hence, the size of the black economy in India is projected on the basis of data on the share of the services sector and trade in GDP and the crime rate representing the extent of illegality.

Finally, after 1995–96, estimates based on the fi scal approach are not available, and this article therefore estimates the size beyond that year. The analysis points to two major difficulties in estimating the size of the black economy. First, the lack of official studies that can provide additional data points. Second, the lack of proper econometric techniques to incorporate the missing or mis-specified variables required to carry out the estimation. All the offi cial data series are in error due to the existence of the black economy, and all the studies using such official data suffer from this.

Given the many limitations concerning data mentioned, the relative size of the black economy in 2012 turns out to be 62.02% of the GDP. The average rate of growth of the black economy in the five-year period up to 2012 was about 20%. Clearly, since projections have been made from 1996 onwards, the further out in time one goes, the larger is the likely error in the estimate. New methods of estimation of the size of the black economy are needed, and this article has made one such attempt.

The paper is an extension of earlier interviews of Prof Arun Kumar (one and two) who pointed who this demonetisation exercise will hardly achieve much. It will just be increased trouble for the poor and marginal..

Demonetisation: 1978, the Present and the Aftermath

November 29, 2016

This is the title of a new EPW paper  by J Dennis Rajakumar S L Shetty of EPW Research Foundation, Mumbai.

Sudden demonetisation of ₹500 and ₹1,0000 notes, an elimination of existing money stock that enables economic transactions, is bound to have an economic impact, apart from penalising those who hold this money as store of their tax-evaded illegal wealth. Considering various possible scenarios, a loss of gross domestic product will be inevitable. 

Whether demonetisation this time will achieve its stated purpose can be understood only when more statistics become available. The extent of demonetised high denomination currency that finally fails to be exchanged for new notes or be deposited in banks will be an important indicator.

There are some interesting trends and analysis here.

 

Saving the world from econocracy…

November 28, 2016

Three students Joe Earle, Cahal Moran and Zach Ward-Perkins have written this book – The Econocracy. They say we need to save the world from too much of economic advice and frameworks.

Mark Buchanan of Bloomberg endorses the book:

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Digging through India’s Demonetisation History Part -III: Why were high denominated notes demonetised in 1946 restarted in 1954?

November 28, 2016

This blog had earlier pointed to insights from the two historical episodes of India’s demonetisation in 1946 and 1978. There was another post on how Pakistan demonetised the Indian Rupees in its country post Partition.

One thing which keeps striking you all the time why does the Government keep reintroducing these high denomination notes? Infact, the first time they were demonetised in 1946, they were reintroduced as early as 1954! I was (once again) scanning RBI History volume (1951-67) to understand what was the thinking behind the reintroduction.

It says:

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Demonetisation 2016: Impact on money supply…some initial trends..

November 26, 2016

The data for Nov. 11 2016 shows that M3 declined by Rs 38320 Crore in the fortnight.

 

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Demonetisation 2016: How is RBI adjusting its Balance Sheet? Some initial trends..

November 26, 2016

RBI released its Weekly Statistical Supplement for week ended 25 Nov 2016. It has RBI balance sheet and Reserve Money data for week ended 18 Nov 2016 and Money Supply data for 11 Nov 2016.

What are the initial trends?

In the RBI Balance Sheet, we see a marginal rise of Rs 8539 Crore. The major changes are mainly on items in Liabilities side and marginal ones in Assets (as expected):

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India’s 2016 Demonetisation: Quoting John Stuart Mill and lessons from Milton Friedman….

November 25, 2016

Milton Friedman’s one of the most famous and widely read papers is – The Role of Monetray Policy , American Economic Review, March 1967. Each time you read it, you learn something new.

In the paper, he quotes John Stuart Mill (page 12):

My own studies of monetary history have made me extremely sympathetic to the oft-quoted, much reviled, and as widely misunderstood, comment by John Stuart Mill.

“There cannot . .. ,” he wrote, “be intrinsically a more insignificant thing, in the economy of society, than money; except in the character of a contrivance for sparing time and labour. It is a machine for doing quickly and commodiously, what would be done, though less quickly and commodiously, without it: and like many other kinds of machinery, it only exerts a distinct and independent influence of its own when it gets out of order” [7, p. 488].

True, money is only a machine, but it is an extraordinarily efficient machine. Without it, we could not have begun to attain the astounding growth in output and level of living we have experienced in the past two centuries-any more than we could have done so without those other marvelous machines that dot our countryside and enable us, for the most part, simply to do more efficiently what could be done without them at much greater cost in labor.

But money has one feature that these other machines do not share. Because it is so pervasive, when it gets out of order, it throws a monkey wrench into the operation of all the other machines. The Great Contraction is the most dramatic example but not the only one. Every other major contraction in this country has been either produced by monetary disorder or greatly exacerbated by monetary disorder. Every major inflation has been produced by monetary expansion-mostly to meet the overriding demands of war which have forced the creation of money to supplement explicit taxation.

The first and most important lesson that history teaches about what monetary policy can do-and it is a lesson of the most profound importance-is that monetary policy can prevent money itself from being a major source of economic disturbance……

The words are just so profound. They sum up monetary history and experiments across world and across time in very few words.

There is a reason why history of India’s demonetisation tells us the reluctance of Indian central bank of going ahead with the move. There is a reason very few central banks and countries have gone ahead with the move at the first place.

Infact, why go far in monetary history. Just see today’s world economy. Its major source of instability is the monetary policy conducted by central banks which has made money a major source of economic disturbance.

Demonetisation Links (25-Nov-2016)

November 25, 2016

The anti-cash movement rising across world and its unrealised wide implications..

November 25, 2016

Joseph Salerno of Mises Institute has been warning us against the rising anti cash movement across the world.

In an earlier talk Salerno tells us how these are just attempts by the State to ensure you are always under their radar.

Governments, at least modern western governments, have always hated cash transactions. Cash is private, and cash is hard to tax. So politicians trump up phony reasons like drug trafficking and money laundering to win support for bad laws like the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, which makes even small cash transactions potentially reportable to the Feds.

Today cash is under attack like never before. Ultra low interest rates are the norm for commercial bank accounts. In Europe, as the ECB ventures into negative nominal interest rates, certain banks threaten to charge customers for depositing cash. Meanwhile, certain European bonds now pay negative yields, effectively turning them into insurance products rather than financial assets. And some economists now call for the outright abolition of cash, which shows just how far some will go in their crazed belief that economic prosperity can be commanded by forcing us to spend rather than save.

The War on Cash is real, and it will intensify. Here to explain is Dr. Joe Salerno, who spoke on the subject at our recent Mises Circle event in Stamford, Connecticut.

In this piece, Ryan McMaken sums up the talk:

As Joseph Salerno has observed, the elimination of physical cash makes it easier for the state to keep track of private persons, and it assists central banks in efforts to punish saving and expand the money supply by implementing negative interest rate schemes. 

A third advantage of the elimination of physical cash would be to more easily control people and potential dissidents through the freezing of their bank accounts.

Joseph Salerno further points that post-India, there is a similar movement in Australia as well:

The global war on cash is remarkably well coordinated. Less than a week after the Indian government announced it was withdrawing its two highest denomination currency notes (equivalent to about $15.00 and $7.50, respectively) from circulation, the Anti-Cash Axis, which comprises a witch’s brew of national governments, establishment media outlets, international bureaucracies and, especially, gigantic multinational banks, has launched a concerted attack on Australia. Two days ago, Citibank announced that it was going cashless at some of its Australian bank branches.

Yesterday, Swiss giant UBS called for the elimination of the Australian $100 and $50 bills because it would be “good for the economy and good for the banks.” The Australian government in cahoots with the media prepared the way for these brazenly self-serving antics by two of the largest banks to have failed and been bailed our during the financial crisis. Back in February a leading Sydney newspaper published a series of articles, some authored by officials from Australia’s Treasury Department, suggesting that abolishing cash would “save billions” and that  “a cashless society is the next step for the Australian dollar.” 

I have a better proposal for our brothers and sisters Down Under: don’t acquiesce in the elimination of your cash; eliminate the banks by immediately reclaiming all your cash that is “on deposit” at these institutions that cannot exist without government guarantees and bailouts.  

What is interesting to see across are huge double standards across the globe. We are hardly seeing a natural evolution towards e-payments.

There is this supposed crony capitalism where these large banks/payment providers are using Governments to push people towards their products. Then these very large corporate/financial players along with these e-payment providers build a story that how these things are about development of markets and making them efficient!

Part of the blame is on economics education as well. Earlier history of money was known to most students. Now we hardly discuss about historic evolution of money and State’s deep interest and manipulation in the matters of money. The way we have moved from commodity money to fiat money and all fiat money declared as legal tender with very little State accountability is a fascinating tale untold. And now this jump towards plastic money which gives State powers to monitor you as well. What better?

It is shocking that earlier most economists would have raised questions on this State involvement in monetary matters. Now most are backing it!

Digging India’s Demonetisation History Part -2: Case of Pakistan demonetising Indian Rupee notes post Partition….

November 24, 2016

The history of demonetisation continues to be fascinating. After posting about two episodes of Demonetisation in India in 1946 and 1978, one came across another one reading RBI history during Partition.

There are various economic history issues in Indo-Pak partition. The currency usage was one such issue. Before Partition, the Indian Rupee was used across the sub-continent. Post-partition, how did Pakistan move onto a new currency? How was Indian currency removed  or in other words demonetised from Pakistan monetary system?What was the process?

In RBI’s first history volume (1935-51), there is some interesting discussion on these issues. (Let me warn upfront. This one is both a long and confusing post):

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The secret of Dubai’s success..

November 24, 2016

Yasser Al-Saleh, a faculty member at the MBRSG (formerly the Dubai School of Government) has a piece on Dubai model.

He calls it the ABS model:

As governments across the Middle East try to wean themselves off natural resources and build diversified, resilient economies, they should take some lessons from Dubai. It’s a remarkable story. In less than a generation, Dubai has transformed itself into a major center for investment, commerce, and high-end culture. Although the 2008 global financial crisis hit the city-state hard (owing to its exposure to inflated real-estate assets), it recovered quickly, as evidenced by its bids for events such as the World Expo 2020.

How Dubai managed not only to survive, but to thrive, in the wake of the crisis warrants closer scrutiny. So, this past summer, I began investigating the so-called Dubai model of resilient growth, and the challenges that may lie ahead for it. As part of my research, I conducted more than 40 in-depth interviews with government officials and business elites, and fleshed out my findings with secondary data sources.

Dubai’s growth and resilience is attributable to its “ABS model” of attraction, branding, and state-led development. Just as a car’s anti-lock braking system prevents it from skidding out of control in dangerous situations, Dubai’s three-prong strategy keeps its development agenda on track, even during economic crises.

With respect to state-led development, Dubai’s approach is typical of Gulf states. Its society adheres to tribal traditions that afford its ruling elite, headed by the royal family, a paternal and omnipotent role in determining the direction and form of economic development. This means that “Dubai, Inc.” can quickly and seamlessly adapt to changing economic circumstances.

Dubai is sometimes called the Singapore of the Desert, because, like Singapore, it has experienced enormous state-directed economic growth, and benefits from proactive, visionary leadership that has turned a small city-state with limited natural resources into an important international entrepôt.

Moreover, Dubai has done a good job of branding itself to attract the foreign investment and labor needed to achieve its growth ambitions. Like New York, Shanghai, and Las Vegas, which have all enhanced their images through architecture, Dubai conveys its innovation-oriented identity through its cityscape and skyline, which has around 150 skyscrapers, more than any other city except New York and Hong Kong.

Dubai also has the first 3D-printed office building, stunning manmade islands, the world’s only (self-proclaimed) “seven-star hotel,” shopping malls combined with aquariums, indoor skiing, and skydiving facilities, and an array of iconic buildings and amusement parks. It also hosts the world’s most expensive horseraces and other lavish sporting events.

Dubai’s brand is further strengthened by its political stability, safety, tolerance, cultural diversity, and high standard of living, which are a draw for skilled expatriates from around the world. Moreover, the emirate appeals to foreign investors with special economic zones that few other states can match.

What are the worries?

The ABS model explains Dubai’s economic resilience and its quick recovery after the global financial crisis. But it also helps the emirate adjust its strategy to account for new challenges. Just as a car’s ABS makes it easier for a driver to slow down or change course to avoid dangerous obstacles, Dubai’s state-led development apparatus can realign its attraction and branding activities in accordance with its growth goals and changing circumstances in the Middle East and beyond.

On the other hand, if the government fails to fix its structural problem – under-developed indigenous human capital – it will essentially be driving a more dangerous car, one in which it will become difficult or impossible to avoid obstacles without the wheels locking up.

The success of all models eventually becomes its biggest weakness as well..

The ocean transportation revolution in the North Atlantic during 1826 to 1914

November 24, 2016

Brandon Dupont and Thomas Weiss have an interesting paper telling you about history of many things:

 They basically build the data from advertised fares of passenger liners published in newspapers during those times:

We have therefore also made use of advertisements in a number of newspapers and magazines to construct a consistent long-term series on first cabin passenger fares from 1826 to 1914. This has proved to be an efficient method of collecting enough evidence on fares to be representative of the industry as a whole. The newspapers – a number of which are readily available online – reported ship movements, departure schedules, and contained shipping line advertisements of fares, often on a daily or nearly daily basis across the period. Compiling fares from standardised newspaper advertisements is more feasible than excavating heterogeneous data from the archives of multiple firms, and it also represents the price signals which passengers were likely to have considered when deciding to travel, even though it does not always measure how much was actually paid.

One limitation to the advertised fares is that they stopped appearing after 1896 for reasons that seem to be associated with the contemporaneous advancement of market-sharing and rate-setting by North Atlantic passenger shipping cartels or conferences. We were, however, able to extend the series up to 1914 using minimum fares established by the cartels. Although these cartel fares were not advertised in newspapers, they were public information, and were reported in news stories and in some shipping line brochures. These fares are those that would have been advertised, if the shipping lines had continued to include fare information in the ads they did run.

The evidence shows that fares declined over a period and then rose:

Since passenger volumes varied across shipping companies, we also constructed a weighted fares series using estimates of passenger volumes from a variety of sources including the New York Commissioner of Emigration, the New York Times and other newspapers, and, in later years, records of the Transatlantic Passenger Conferences. Both the weighted and unweighted fares are illustrated in Figure 1.

By 1870, the major UK lines were all providing at least weekly departures from New York, and the quality of travel was improving as well, with electric lighting and the first forms of refrigeration soon becoming standard. But as illustrated in Figure 1, first class travellers paid fares that were about 40% lower in 1890 than in 1870 even while there were considerable improvements in frequency of service, safety, and on-board amenities. The declining fares before 1890 contrasts noticeably with what took place in first class travel on the New York–UK corridor for the two and half decades after1890, during which first cabin fares increased while first cabin passenger traffic stagnated. This might reflect increased efforts to substantially improve travel amenities as suggested by Johnson and Huebner (1920), and made evident with Cunard’s launching of the Lusitania and Mauritania in 1907. Or it might have been more a matter of passenger lines using stronger cartel price support to collect some offsetting revenue – through fare increases – for the mild cost inflation incurred since the 1890s and for enhancements provided to passengers. What is consistent for both the decades before and the decades after the 1890s is the negative correlation of first cabin fares and passenger volumes, which was stronger than might be expected given that most pre-WWI first class transatlantic passengers were wealthy tourists not especially sensitive to the prices of tickets for the oceanic transit.

Many things are here. How people traveled, time taken, various passenger classes in ships and so on..

Currency Notes across the world in 2016..

November 23, 2016

Currency notes have become a new obsession with this blog. After seeing some surprising interest by viewers on the blogpost on new notes in Norway, one decided to see what is happening across the world.

Here are some links of new notes issued across the world in 2016:

If visitors know of other new launches, please add to the list. Thanks.

The Rebel Economist Who Blew Up Macroeconomics..Paul Romer

November 23, 2016

A nice profile of Paul Romer and his recent mission to blow up macroeconomics:

Paul Romer says he really hadn’t planned to trash macroeconomics as a math-obsessed pseudoscience. Or infuriate countless colleagues. It just sort of happened.

His intention actually had been to write a paper that would celebrate advances in the understanding of what drives economic growth. But when he sat down to write it in the months before taking over as the World Bank’s chief economist, Romer quickly found his heart wasn’t in it. The world economy wasn’t growing much anyway; and the math that many colleagues were using to model it seemed unrealistic. He watched a documentary about the Church of Scientology, and was struck by how groupthink can operate.

So, Romer said in an interview at the Bank’s Washington headquarters, “I just thought, OK, I’m going to say what I think. I don’t know if I’m the right person, but no one else is going to say it. So I said it.”

The upshot was “The Trouble With Macroeconomics,” a scathing critique that landed among Romer’s peers like a grenade. In a time of febrile politics, with anti-establishment revolts breaking out everywhere, faith in economists was already ebbing: They got blamed for failing to see the Great Recession coming and, later, to suggest effective remedies. Then, along came one of the leading practitioners of his generation, to say that the skeptics were onto something.

Demonetisation Links (23-11-2016): Supreme Court advocate on the move, RBI’s Mt Everest Challenge, Marriage cash woes and many more

November 23, 2016