ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dealing with the Crisis in India

In the context of the spreading financial and economic crisis, what essentially needs to be done in India?

Until just the other day, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram thought that he could calm the stock market with smooth talk about the Indian economy’s “strong fundamentals”, its sound banking system, and so on. He was surely whistling in the dark if he thought that all those slick phrases would actually arrest the turbulence in the stock market and impel hard-nosed bankers to disburse more credit. Apart from exuding confidence in the economy, all the government seemed to think necessary was to relax further the conditions governing foreign institutional invest-ment inflows and pump more liquidity into the system. But, on 3 November, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met the captains of Indian industry to assure them that the government would do all they wanted to maintain the tempo of what has essentially been private investment-cum-elite consumption-driven growth.

The prime minister was concerned that “international credit has shrunk with adverse effects on our corporates (sic) and our banks”. He admitted that “Global uncertainty is also tending to dampen investor sentiment”. But, apart from harnessing the “counter cyclical role” of “expanding investment in infrastructure”, the measures the prime minister hinted at were more of the same – cut interest rates and “infuse liquidity into the system to ensure adequate flow of credit”. Now, the fact is that the state of long-term expectations as regards the prospect for profitable investment opportunities, what Keynes called “the marginal efficiency of capital”, is exceedingly gloomy. What if massive liquidity is pumped into the financial system and the rate of interest is brought down to near zero and yet businesses do not want to invest as much as what is saved? We are then in a classic “liquidity trap” where monetary policy, as the good old textbooks used to put it, finds itself “pushing onastring” and all attempts to stimu-late the economy through easing liquidity will not resume the flow of credit. This happens when there is widespread financial distress and a depression is anticipated. It may be recalled that extremely low rates of interest and plentiful liquidity were unable to overcome the stagnation that afflicted the Japanese economy not so long ago.

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