New Delhi: Quo Vadis in Latin means “where are you going?” And Que Sera Sera in Italian means: “Whatever will be, will be”. That is, the future is not for us to see.
The first is the pleading of those bewildered by the outcomes of the last few years due to demonetisation, GST, economic decline, Covid-19 lockdown, and now the imagined consequences of the China military attack, and hence feel lost or depressed. So Quo Vadis.
The second is the plight of officials in the Ministry of Finance who cannot see how to navigate out from the present near collapse of the economy and the likely snowball in the future. It is sad to see the strictures of the Supreme Court on the inadequacy steps being taken for meeting the coronavirus havoc on the middle class and the poor.
The latest so-called “stimulus” package of about Rs 1.1 lakh crore announced by the Finance Ministry is widely regarded as disappointing. Even the well disposed to government think tanks, e.g., Global Markets Research has described it as “underwhelming”.
The so-called “stimulus” consists of four parts: (a) Rs 37,000 crore as an additional Budget for capital expenditure, of which Rs 12,000 crore is repayable. This is no demand booster. (b) Rs 28,000 crore is from encashing of the LTC scheme for employees offered by Centre, states and PSU, plus leave due to employees is also encashable. (c) Another Rs 28,000 crore if the corporate sector agrees to replicate the LTC scheme for its employees. (d) Rs 8,000 crore for a one time festival advance scheme.
The total effect of this 0.2% of GDP expenditure will be “underwhelming” but which in fact is a gross underestimate of what is needed.
What is the government’s problem that their decision making is so stunted? In FY 21 [year ending 31 March 2021], the Budget fiscal deficit is estimated to be 12.1% of the estimated GDP compared to the Budgetary target for FY21 of 3.5% of the then projected GDP. This is mainly due to the poor revenue receipt because of a slump in growth rates and GST flopping, so much so that the Union government has defaulted on payment indirect taxes dues to states of more than Rs 2 lakh crore.
According to the estimates of this writer, FY21 GDP will be about minus 15% compared to FY20. A timid RBI puts it at minus 9.5%. The stimulus so far since the lockdown began is only 1.2% of GDP. Hence fiscal deficit being so high cannot be the made an excuse to be so miserly on the stimulus necessary today.
The only advice I can give the government is: please take some radical but informed steps that will raise the morale of the people of the nation and not suffer in misery for no fault of the people.
In three dimensions, the nation today is wondering which way we are all headed, and what is happening to the future promised in 2014 and 2019 to make a corruption-free Bharat, in which money laundering, gangsters let loose in India by ISI of Pakistan, and media fake news will be liquidated. Vikas as goal was also vociferously propagated by all of us in BJP.
The good news is that the built-in potential in the economy is easy to tap for revival to achieve these goals, as it is the basic resilience of the Indian people to face any situation as demonstrated from past crises such as near famine conditions of 1965-67, wars of 1962, and foreign exchange crisis of 1990-91.
India can rise to new heights by appropriate changes in policy and governance, and thus achieve higher growth rates of 10%-plus annual growth in GDP with healthy structural changes for productivity-raising innovations.
Modern economic growth is powered overwhelmingly (over 65% of GDP) by new innovation and techniques (e.g., internet). More capital and labour contribute less than 35% of growth in GDP.
We must, hence, for the young, realise and harvest the demographic potential.
India today leads the world in the supply pool of youth, i.e., persons in the age group of 15 to 35 years, and this lead will last for another 40 years.
This generation is the most fertile milieu for promoting knowledge, innovation and research. It is the prime work force that saves for the future, the corpus for pension funding of the old. We should therefore not squander this “natural vital resource of demographic dividend” by poor understanding of economic theory and history. Macro economics is mathematical science that requires vast experience in realising the nuances and inter-sectoral dynamics of demand and supply factors, social costs and social benefits of policy. Stimulus is not like handing doles to beggars. It requires a love for the science and art of economics, and passionate desire to help the poor, the needy middle class and the unemployed youth in times of crisis such as now.
Dr Subramanian Swamy is a sixth term MP. He has taught economics at Harvard and at IIT Delhi, and has been senior Union Cabinet Minister of Commerce and Law & Justice.