Chote Netaji Akhilesh Yadav is a concerned man these days. A man concerned for more than 400 MLAs of Uttar Pradesh. To help them he decided to increase the area development fund for the MLAs and MLCs of Uttar Pradesh to Rs 1.5 crore from the current Rs 1.25crore. And then he allowed the MLAs to spend Rs 20 lakh from the increased allocation of Rs 25 lakh to buy a car.
The media did not like the move. And went bang bang bang against it, forcing Akhilesh to withdraw the “free car” offer. “I take back the whole decision. The reason behind this is that most of the MLAs have decided not to take the offer after the media hype,” he told reporters after changing his decision.
When making the decision Akhilesh had said that a car will provide MLAs mobility and help them more effectively. Fair point. Once the electorate of this country has elected an individual to represent them, they need to provide him with the basic things that he needs to carry out his job of representing them, properly.
Given this a car is surely a necessity for an MLA. There is no arguing with that. So to that extent Akhilesh was right. But the question that crops up here is that why allocate Rs 20 lakhs to buy a car?
Cars in India can be bought for as low as Rs 2 lakh. I am no auto expert and won’t be able to tell you the difference between torque and horse power, but I do know that a decent comfortable car can easily be bought in this country from anywhere between Rs 5-8 lakh.
So why allocate Rs 20 lakh then?
Before I get around to answering this question, let me deviate a little and tell you about something interesting that I read in a book titled Spent — Sex, Evolution, And Consumer Behaviour written by Geoffrey Miller, a few years back.
In this book Miller points out that “Consumerism has deep roots in evolution.” He then explains it with an example. “Why would the world’s most intelligent primate buy a Hummer H1 Alpha sport utility vehicle for $139,771? It is not a practical mode of transport. It seats only four, needs 51 feet in which to turn around, burns a gallon of gas every ten miles, dawdles from 0 to 60mph in 13.5 seconds and has poor reliability. Yet, some people feel the need to buy it.”
The question is why would anyone want to buy a car which has such poor performance parameters. “Biology offers an answer. Humans evolved in small social groups in which image and status were all-important, not only for survival but for attracting mates, impressing friends, and rearing children. Many products are products are signals first and material objects later,” writes Miller.
The last sentence is particularly interesting: “Many products are products are signals first and material objects later.” Just keep this sentence in mind, and let us return to Akhilesh and his Rs 20 lakh car.
Why does an MLA need a car? The answer is very simple and Akhilesh has already explained it to us. An MLA needs a car to go around his constituency. It gives him better mobility. Allows him to meet more people. Travel faster. And spend his limited time in a much better way.
All the above mentioned things can be easily accomplished even by buying a Tata Nano or a Maruti Zen or any car in the range of Rs 5-8 lakh. So why allocate Rs 20 lakh to buy a car?
For an MLA a car is much more than mobility. It is a signal of “power”. It is a signal of the fact that he is an “important” person. These are things that are very important for an MLA to project to the constituency of voters. If he is visiting a particular area of his constituency there has to be a buzz “ke MLA sahab aa rahe hain”. And all these needs or “signals” as Miller calls them, cannot be accomplished by driving around in a Tata Nano with a ‘red-light” on top.
What an MLA needs is an SUV (sports utility vehicle). A bigger car which conveys a sense of “power” and importance. Driving around in a Tata Nano or any other cheaper car will not convey this. And SUVs are expensive. The good ones cannot be bought for a price of Rs 5-8 lakh. And so you UP MLAs need Rs 20 lakh to buy a car.
The logic is similar to that of politicians taking the risk of going around in “helicopters”, given that so many of them keep crashing and killing them. A politician flying in a helicopter and landing in an open field, dust flying around everywhere, thousands of people waiting to have a look at him and hear him speak, creates a sense of awe, power and importance among the voters.
So will Akhilesh now allow his MLAs to buy helicopters and bill it to the state? That of course won’t happen, given that the media has successfully nipped his “car for MLAs” scheme in the bud.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 4,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-the-upa-mla-needs-a-rs-20-lakh-car-367173.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
Month: July 2012
Will Rahul say “Mere Paas Ma Hai”? Or will Manmohan say “Mogambo Khush Hua”?
I remember reading an interview with Shekhar Kapur years back in which he described his experience with Javed Akhtar during the making of Mr India.
When Akhtar first recited the line “Mogambo Khush Hua” to Kapur, he wasn’t impressed. This was the main line of Mogambo, the villain of the movie. As Kapur recounts on his blog “Hmmm, I thought – there must be more to that.”
But Akhtar was convinced about the line. “Shekhar Sahib, when Kapil Dev hits a six over the grounds, people will shout Mogambo Khush Hua, and when people play three card brag (teen patti) and if they get three aces, they will shout “Mogambo Khush Hua.” “You trust me on that,” Javed Akhtar assured me,” writes Kapur on his blog.
Kapur ran with what Akhtar told him and the rest as we all know is history. Mr India was a huge hit. Such was the power of the line that people started to use it during the course of regular conversation, whenever they felt happy about something. As Kapoor writes “And some time later as I was watching Kapail Dev hit a six over the Sharjah grounds I saw a huge banner go up in the Indian supporters. It said : “Mogambo Khush Hua.””
“Mogambo Khush Hua” became one of the most famous one-liners that Hindi cinema had produced. But this wasn’t the best one-liner that Akhtar ever wrote. His best one liner clearly has to be “Mere Paas Ma Hai” from the movie Deewar. The line is simple yet so powerful.
Deewar was released on January 1, 1975. Around six months later on June 25, 1975, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India declared a state of emergency. During the 21 month period of emergency Indira’s younger son Sanjay almost ran a parallel government along with his cronies. One of his major areas of concern was overpopulation and the government under his instructions forcefully carried vasectomies all over the country. This phenomenon got Atal Behari Vajpayee all worked up to write a poem titled “aao mardon na mard bano”. Those were the days.
Sanjay Gandhi wouldn’t have been able to force vasectomies on thousands of Indian men without the “love” and the “backing” of his mother Indira Gandhi, who is said to have had a soft corner for her ill-tempered son. “Mere Paas Ma Hai” was a line written for Sanjay Gandhi rather than Ravi, the character played by Shashi Kapoor in Deewar , who speaks the line in the movie. Chances are that if Deewar had been released six months later during the emergency, the line wouldn’t have made it past the censor board.
India is at the same stage again. The love of a mother for her only son is holding the country back. The moves are already being made. Pranab Mukjerhee has been packed off to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The next decision that is to be made is who will replace him at the Finance Ministry?
Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, wants to run the ministry with his team of economists: Montek Singh Ahulwalia, the deputy chairman of the planning commission, C Rangarajan the Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economic Adviser to the government of India. He is also hoping that Raghuham Rajan from the University of Chicago, a former Chief Economist at the IMF, to join the team.
But will this be allowed to happen? The answer is no. Sonia Gandhi needs a politician as the minister of Finance. A politician who can like, P Chidambaram did, come up with schemes like the Rs 71,000 crore of farmers loans being waived off. A politician who can get the right to food act up and running.
A politician who can get onto a helicopter and drop bucket loads of money from it. Okay, not quite that. But a politician who can ensure that voters of this country have been bribed enough in the name of poverty and economic development, so that when Lok Sabha elections happen in 2014, they vote for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the Congress. All this to ensure that Rahul baba takes over the reins of the world’s biggest democracy.
This means that the fiscal deficit of the government of India will continue to go up. The government will continue to borrow more and more. And interest rates are likely to remain high. Economic sense be dammed.
And in the next few months you might hear of an A K Antony or a Digvijay Singh or a Jairam Ramesh or a Kamal Nath or a Sushil Kumar Shinde or even the all guns blazing all the time, Kapil Sibbal, taking over as the finance minister of this country. The name doesn’t really matter because none of them have voices or ideas of their own. Even if they did they have long been put on the backburner because all that matters now is that “Rahul Gandhi has to be made the PM”.
Manmohan Singh is the only person who can stop a seasoned Congress politician from taking over as the finance minister of India and limiting the serious damage to the Indian economy that would come with it. The good “doctor” has got more and “much” more, than he would have ever bargained for. He can resist moves to appoint a politician as a finance minister by threatening to resign. That is one thing that the Congress won’t be able to handle. It would set the cat among the pigeons.
It’s time for Singh to payback to the country for all that the country has given to him. But the question is will he be as docile as he has been and allow a mother’s love for her son to takeover? Will Rahul Gandhi say “Mere Paas Ma Hai”? Or will Manmohan Singh by resisting a full time politician taking over the ministry of finance, give us, you, me and everybody else, an opportunity to say “Mogambo Khush Hua”.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 2,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/babalog-prophecy-why-akhilesh-wont-ever-transcend-mulayam-368232.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
An interview with the mysterious, reclusive, FoFoA….
Half way through the interview, I ask him where does he see the price of gold reaching in the days to come. “Well, I don’t see gold’s trajectory being typical of what you’d expect to see in a bull market….And I expect that physical gold will be repriced somewhere around $55,000 per ounce in today’s purchasing power. I have to add that purchasing power part because it will likely be concurrent with currency devaluation,” he replies. Meet FOFOA, an anonymous blogger whose writings on fofoa.blogspot.com have taken the world by storm over the last few years. In a rare interview he talks to Vivek Kaul on paper money, the fall of the dollar, the coming hyperinflation and the rise of “physical” gold.
The world is printing a lot paper money to solve the economic problems. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. What are your views on that?
Paper money being printed to solve the problems… this was *always* on the cards. It doesn’t surprise me, nor does it anger me, because I understand that it was always to be expected. The monetary and financial system we’ve been living with—immersed in like fish in water—for the past 90 years uses the obligations of counterparties as its foundation. These obligations are noted on paper. In describing the specific obligations these papers represent, we use well-known words like dollars, euro, yen, rupees and yuan. But what do these purely symbolic words really mean? What are these paper obligations really worth in the physical world? Ultimately, after 90 years, we have arrived at our inevitable destination: the intractable problem of an unimaginably intertwined, interconnected Gordian knot of purely symbolic obligations. A Gordian knot is like an unsolvable puzzle. It cannot be untangled. The only solution comes from “thinking outside the box.” You’ve got to cut the knot to untangle it. So the endgame was always going to be debasing these purely symbolic units. Anyone who expected anything else simply fooled themselves into believing the rules wouldn’t be changed.
Do you see the paper money continuing in the days to come?
Yes, of course! Paper money, or today’s equivalent which is electronic currency, is the most efficient primary medium of exchange ever used in all of human history. To see this you only need to abandon the idea of accumulating these symbolic units for your future financial security. They aren’t meant for that! They are great for trading in the here-and-now, not for storing for the unknown future. To paraphrase Silvio Gesell, an economist in favor of symbolic currency almost a century ago, “All the physical assets of the world are at the disposal of those who wish to save, so why should they make their savings in the form of money? Money was not made to be saved!” In hindsight, this statement is true whether money is a hard commodity like gold or silver, or a symbolic word like dollar, euro or rupee. In both cases, saving in “money” leads to monetary tension between the debtors and the savers. When money was a hard commodity, this tension was sometimes even released through bloodshed, like the French Revolution. So no, I don’t think we’re swinging back to a hard currency this time.
Do you see the world going back to the gold standard?
No, of course not! “The gold standard” means different things depending on which period you are talking about. But in all cases it used gold to denominate credit, the economy’s primary medium of exchange. Today we have a really efficient and ultimately flexible currency. Bank runs like the 1930s are a thing of the past. But that’s not to say that gold will not play a central role in the future. It will! The signs of it already happening are everywhere! Gold is not going to replace our primary medium of exchange which is paper or electronic units with those names I mentioned above. Instead, physical gold will replace paper obligations as the reserves—or store of value—within the system. Physical gold in unambiguous ownership has no counterparty. This is a much more resilient foundation than the tangled web of obligations we have today.
Can you give an example?
If you’d like to see this change in action, go to the ECB (European Central Bank) website and look at the Eurosystem’s balance sheet. On the asset side gold is on line 1 and obligations from counterparties are below it. Additionally, they adjust all their assets to the market price every three months. I have a chart of these MTM (marked to market) adjustments on my blog. Over the last decade you can see gold rising from around 30% of total reserves to over 60% while paper obligations have fallen from 70% to less than 40%. I expect this to continue until gold is more than 90% of the reserves behind the euro.
Where do you see all this money printing heading to? Will the world see hyperinflation?
Yes, this will end. I am pretty well known for predicting dollar hyperinflation. As controversial as that prediction is, I think it is a fairly certain and obvious end. I don’t like to guess at the timing because there are so many factors to consider and I’m no supercomputer, but ever since I started following this stuff I’ve always said it is overdue in the same way an earthquake can be overdue. As for other currencies, I don’t know. Perhaps yes for the UK pound and the yen, but I don’t know about the rupee. The important things to watch are the balance of trade and the government’s control over the printing press. If you’re running a trade deficit and your government can (and will) print, then you are a candidate for hyperinflation.
In that context what price do you see gold going to?
Well, I don’t see gold’s trajectory being typical of what you’d expect to see in a bull market. Instead it will be a reset of sorts, kind of like an overnight revaluation of a currency. I’m sure some of your readers have experienced a bank holiday followed by a devaluation. This will be similar. And I expect that gold will be repriced somewhere around $55,000 per ounce in today’s purchasing power. I have to add that purchasing power part because it will likely be concurrent with currency devaluation. So, in rupee terms, I guess that’s about Rs3.2 million per ounce at today’s exchange rate.
The price of gold has been rather flat lately. What are the reasons for the same? Where do you see the price of gold going over the next couple of years?
“The price of gold” is an interesting turn of phrase because I use it often to express “all things goldish” in the gold market. In today’s market, “gold” is very loosely defined. What passes for “gold” in the financial market is mostly the paper obligations of counterparties. These include forward sales, futures contracts, swaps, options and unallocated accounts. I often use the abbreviation “$PoG” to refer to the going dollar price for this loose financial “gold”.
The LBMA (London Bullion Market Association) recently released a survey of the total daily trading volume of unallocated (paper) gold. That survey revealed a trading flow of such magnitude that it compares to every ounce of gold that has ever been mined in all of history changing hands in just three months, or about 250 times faster than gold miners are actually pulling metal out of the ground. Equally stunning were the net sales during the survey period. The rate at which the banking system created “paper gold” was 11 times faster than real gold was being mined.
What is the point you are trying to make?
The point is that gold is being used by the global money market as a hard currency. But it is being treated by the marketplace as both a commodity that gets consumed and also as a fiat currency that can be credited at will. It is neither, and gold’s global traders are in for a rude awakening when they find out that ounce-denominated credits will not be exchangeable for a price anywhere near a physical ounce of gold in extremis—ironically failing at the very stage where they were expected to perform.
So what are you predicting?
But don’t get me wrong. It is not a short squeeze that I am predicting. In a short squeeze, the paper price runs up until it draws out enough real supply to cover all of the paper. But this paper will not be covered by physical gold in the end. It will be cash settled, and it will be cash settled at a price much lower than the price of a real ounce of gold, like a check written by an overstretched counterparty. It is a tough job to make my case for the future of the $PoG in just a few paragraphs. The $PoG will fall and then some short time later we will find that the market has changed out of necessity into a physical-only market at a much higher price. If you were holding paper you will be sad. If you were holding the real thing you’ll be very happy
Why is the gold price so flat these days?
Today’s surprisingly stabilized $PoG tells me that someone is throwing money into the fire to delay the inevitable. Where do I see the $PoG going over the next couple of years? Maybe to $500 or less, but you won’t be able to get any physical at that price. I think that today’s price of $1,575 is still a fantastic bargain for physical gold.
Franklin Roosevelt had confiscated all the gold that Americans had in 1933. Do you see something similar happening in the days to come?
Not at all! The purpose of the confiscation was to stop the bank run epidemic at that time. There’s no need to do it again. The dollar is no longer defined as a fixed weight of gold, so the reason for the last confiscation—and subsequent devaluation—no longer exists. Gold that’s still in the ground is a different story, however. Gold mines will likely be considered strategically important national assets after the revaluation, and will therefore fall under tight government control.
The irony of the entire situation is that a currency like “dollar” which is being printed big time has become the safe haven. How safe do you think is the safe haven?
Indeed, everyone seems to be piling into the dollar. Especially on the short end of the curve, helping drive interest rates ridiculously low. The dollar is as safe as a bomb shelter that’s rigged to blow up once everyone is “safely” inside. You can go check it out if you want to (sure, from the outside it might look like shelter), but you don’t want to be in there when it blows up. You’ve got to realize that it is both economically and politically undesirable for any currency to appreciate against its peer currencies due to its use as a safe haven. Remember the Swiss franc? As soon as it started rising due to safe haven use they started printing it back down. The dollar is no different except that it’s got a whole world full of paper obligations denominated in it. So when it blows, the fireworks will be something to behold.
What will change the confidence that people have in the dollar? Will there be some catastrophic event?
That’s the $55,000 question. It is impossible to predict the exact pin that will pop the bubble in a world full of pins, but I have an idea that it will be one of two things. I think the two most likely proximate triggers to a catastrophic loss of confidence are a major failure in the London gold market, or the U.S. government’s response to an unexpected budget crisis due to consumer price inflation. Most people who expect a catastrophic loss of confidence in the dollar seem to think it will begin in the financial markets, like a stock market crash or a Treasury auction failure or something like that. But I think it is more likely to come from where, as I like to say, the rubber meets the road. And here I’m talking about what connects the monetary world to the physical world: prices. I think these “worlds” are connected in two ways. The first is the general price level of goods and services and the second is the price of gold. If one of these two connections is broken by a failure to deliver the real-world items at the financial-system prices, then we suddenly have a real problem with the monetary side. So I think it will be a relatively quick and catastrophic event, but maybe not as dramatic as a major stock market crash. It will be confusing to most of the pundits as to what it really means, so it will take a little while for reality to sink in.
The Romans debased the denarius by almost 100% over a period of 500 years. The dollar on the other hand has lost more than 95% of its purchasing power since the Federal Reserve of United States was established in 1913, nearly 100 years back. Do you think the Federal Reserve has been responsible for the dollar losing almost all of its purchasing power in hundred years?
Yes, inflation was a lot slower in Roman times because it entailed the physical melting and reissuing of coins of a certain face value with less metal content than previous issues. This was a physical process so it occurred on a much longer time scale. The dollar, on the other hand, has lost nearly 97% of its purchasing power in roughly a hundred years. Do I think the Federal Reserve is responsible for this? Well, given that the lending/borrowing dynamic causes expansion of the money supply, I think the government and the people of the world share in the responsibility. But just because the dollar has lost 97% of its purchasing power doesn’t mean that any individual lost that much. How many people do you think are still holding onto dollars today that they earned a hundred years ago? How long would you hold dollars today? As long as the prices of things you want to buy don’t change during the time you are holding the currency, what have you lost? So imagine that you simply use currency for earning, borrowing and spending, but not for saving. Will it matter how much it falls over a hundred years? Your earning and spending will happen within a month or so, and prices won’t change much in a month. Also, your borrowing will be made easier on you as your currency depreciates. And your gold savings will rise. So with the proper use of money, there is no need for alarm if the currency is slowly falling at, say, 2% or 3% per year.
Do you see America repaying all the debt that they have taken from the rest of the world? Or will they just inflate it away by printing more and more dollars?
The debts that exist today can never be repaid in real terms. And as I mentioned before, they are all denominated in symbolic words like dollars, euro, yen, yuan and rupees. The debt of the U.S. Treasury, most of all, will of course be inflated away.
What are your views about the crisis in Europe? Will the euro hold?
Contrary to most of what we read in the Anglo-American press, I don’t think the euro currency is at risk from the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. They are two different things, the debt crisis and the euro. The euro currency faces none of the usual devaluation risks. Trade between the Eurozone and the rest of the world is balanced and the ECB has plenty of reserves. So aside from devaluation risk, which the euro doesn’t face, the only other risk is if the people decide to abandon the euro. Procedurally this would be so difficult for any country to do on a whim that I can confidently say it is virtually impossible aside from the most extreme situations like a revolutionary war or something like that. And I don’t see that happening. I think the euro survives come what may.
What does FOFOA stand for?
I remain anonymous because my blog is not about me. It is a tribute to “Another” and “Friend of Another” or “FOA” who wrote about this subject from 1997 through 2001. So FOFOA could stand for Friend of FOA or Follower of FOA or Fan of FOA. I never really stated what it stands for, so you can decide for yourself. 😉 Sincerely, FOFOA.
(The interview was originally published in the Daily News and Analysis(DNA) on July 2,2012)
(Interviewer Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])