Why Chidambaram should not be overconfident about India’s economy

In the recent past, politicians belonging to the Congress led United Progressive Alliance have often remarked that India will be back to a high economic growth path over the next few years. The latest such comment came from finance minister P Chidambaram on January 16, 2014. As Chidambaram said “As global economy recovers and as new measures take effect, I am confident that Indian economy will also get back step by step to the high growth path in three years.”
This confidence seems to suggest that high economic growth in India is a given and come what may it will come back. But history suggests that is clearly not the case. Economic growth can never be taken for granted.
The Global Emerging Markets Equity Team of Morgan Stanley in report titled 
Tales from the Emerging World dated January 14, 2014, points out “In a recent paper, former [American] Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers warns that of all the factors that drive economic growth the one with the most clearly proven predictive power is simple regression to the mean.” Regression to the mean is a technical term which essentially means that a variable that is highly distinct from the norm tends to return to “normal”. Summers has co-authored the paper titled Asiaphoria Meet Regression to the Mean with Lant Pritchett.
In simple English what Pritchett and Summers are saying is that high economic growth rates tend to revert to their long term averages. As they write “Episodes of super-rapid growth tend to be of short duration and end in decelerations back to the world average growth rate. Both China and India are already in the midst of episodes that are historically long and fast.”
Hence, high economic growth rates can never be taken for granted. “The growth rate, even in successful economies, will tend to revert to the long-term average for all economies (which is about 1.5 to 2 percent). Summers[along with Pritchett] analyzed all 28 nations that, since 1950, have experienced periods of “super rapid growth” of more than 6 percent a year. These booms tend to be “extremely short lived,” with a median duration of nine years, and “nearly always” end in a significant deceleration, with a median deceleration of 4.65 percentage points to an annual GDP growth rate of just 2.1 percent, or “near complete regression to the mean.” In short, the nations catching up most rapidly now are increasingly less likely to continue catching up in the future,” the Morgan Stanley authors point out.
As mentioned, periods of high economic growth rates last for a median period of 9 years. The research paper considers data up to 2011. And by that time, 
the economic growth in India had lasted for a period of around 8 years. In China, it had lasted 32 years.
While Indian politicians might like to think that it is just a matter of time before economic growth comes back, that may not be the case. As Pritchett and Summers write “The single most robust and striking fact about cross-national growth rates is regression to the mean. There is very little persistence in country growth rates over time and hence current growth has very little predictive power for future growth.” Given this, just because the Indian economy has grown at a high growth rate between 2004 and 2011, that does not mean that it will continue to do so in the future as well.
Pritchett and Summers do not get around to explaining the major reasons behind why this happens (the research paper is still work in process). But one of the reasons they point out is the rule of law. As they write “we suspect that the reason for slowdown that will come in China and India is for a similar reason but which will manifest differently given the very different politics. That is, in neither country does investor confidence rely on rule of law.”
But there is other research which points out why poor countries are not able to sustain high economic growth beyond a point. As the Morgan Stanley authors point out “New research, however, shows that “development traps” can knock countries off the catch-up path at any income level. The challenges of developing industry — backed by better banks, schools, regulators, etc. — do not accumulate and confront an economy all at once. They continue to harass an aspiring nation every step up the development ladder.” This is already playing out in India.
In fact, countries flatter to deceive, do well in one decade and don’t do well in the next. “In some cases, development traps can drag newly rich countries back to the middle income ranks, as has happened in the last century to Argentina and Venezuela. Since the late 1950s, many nations have also slid back from the middle to the lower income class, including the Philippines in the 1950s, and Russia, South Africa and Iran in the 1980s and 90s. On average, more nations regress to a lower income level than advance to a higher one. And every decade tosses up new convergence stars — from Iraq in the 1950s to Iran in the 60s and Malta in the 70s — that burn out in the next decade,” Morgan Stanley authors point out.
Hence, sustained economic growth is a very rare phenomenon. And just because India has grown at a fast economic growth rate in the past, it may not do so in the future. The highly optimistic UPA politicians need to start by at least appreciating this point. 

The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on January 21, 2014 
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek) 

Why the markets are reading too much into Larry Summers' withdrawal from Fed race

larry summers Vivek Kaul 
Larry Summers withdrew from the race to become the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve of United States on September 15, 2013. He was believed to be American President Barack Obama’s favourite candidate. (To read why he withdrew from the race click here)
The markets around the world immediately cheered his withdrawal. This happened primarily because Summers was widely seen to be what in central bank speak is termed as a ‘hawk’. A hawk is someone who is likely to raise interest rates and cut down on money supply.
Summers had said in April this year that “QE in my view is less efficacious for the real economy than most people suppose.” QE stands for quantitative easing and refers to the money that the Federal Reserve of United States, the American central bank, has been printing and pumping into the financial system, in the hope of getting the American economy up and running again.
The idea here is that by flooding the financial system with money, the interest rates will continue to remain low, thus encouraging people to borrow and spend more. With people spending more money, businesses will perform better, and the economic growth would come back.
Summers, it is believed, thinks that the government directly spending money through 
stimulus programmes, would have a greater impact on the economic growth in comparison to the Federal Reserve maintaining low interest rates by printing money and hoping that people borrow and spend more money.
The markets believed that Summers would stop printing money faster than Janet Yellen, the current Vice-Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, who is now the front runner for the top job at the Federal Reserve.
Currently, the Federal Reserve prints $85 billion every month, which it pumps into the financial system by buying bonds. Ben Bernanke, the current Chairman of the Federal Reserve of United States, has indicated over the last few months that the Federal Reserve will go slow on money printing in the days to come.
This is a big worry for the markets. The idea behind all the money that is being printed has been that at low interest rates people will borrow and spend more money, and thus economic growth will return. But more than that what has happened is that investors have borrowed money available at very low interest rates and invested it in financial and other markets around the world.
This has led to big bubbles in these markets. 
As economist Bill Bonner writes “Works of art are selling for astronomical prices. High-end palaces and antique cars are setting new records. Is this reckless money hitting the stock market too?” Easy money is showing up in all kinds of places.
If the Federal Reserve goes slow on money printing, interest rates are likely to spike, making it difficult for investors who have enjoyed the benefits of the ‘dollar carry trade’ to continue enjoying it. Summers, the markets had come to believe, was more likely to stop money printing faster than any other candidate. And now that he is out of the race, the era of ‘easy money’ policies is likely to continue for a slightly longer period.
The situation needs a slightly more nuanced reading than this. 
As Martin Fridson writes on Forbes.com “The main, rather thin basis for portraying Summers as a hawk was a single remark he made in April about the Fed’s quantitative easing (QE) program: “QE in my view is less efficacious for the real economy than most people suppose.” This was not a major, formal policy statement, but a comment within an official summary of Summers’ remarks at a conference.”
the Federal Reserve’s own research has showed as much. More than that even if a economist believes that quantitative easing hasn’t been effective, that doesn’t mean that he also believes that the Federal Reserve should go slow on it.
As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman 
writes in a recent column in the New York Times “One answer is the belief that these purchases…are, in the end, not very effective. There’s a fair bit of evidence in support of that belief.” The Federal Reserve puts the money that it prints into the financial system by buying bonds.
Even though, Krugman believes that quantitative easing hasn’t been very effective, he still recommends that it is important to continue with it. “Time for the Fed to take its foot off the gas pedal?” asks Krugman and then goes onto explain why that would not be the right thing to do.
He feels that any suggestion of the Federal Reserve going slow on money printing is going to lead to the long term interest rates in the United States going up. And this can’t be good for the overall American economy, which has just started to show some signs of revival.
Hence, the point here is that even though economists may understand that money printing has not been very effective, at the same time they may not want to go slow on it.
Summers also thinks that government stimulus programmes are likely to be more effective, there was not much that he could do about it. Any extra spending by the American government would mean it would have to borrow more money. This would be a problem given that the government has almost touched its debt limit of $16.7 trillion. 
As the Reuters reports “The government has been scraping up against its $16.7 trillion debt limit since May but has avoided defaulting on any bills by employing emergency measures to manage its cash, such as suspending investments in pension funds for federal workers.”
And more than that the Republicans don’t seem to be in any mood to let the government increase its spending. As an Associated Press news report points out “What’s more, massive fiscal stimulus is highly unlikely given opposition from congressional Republicans to increased spending.”
Given these reasons it is highly unlikely that Larry Summers would have been able to do anything dramatically different from what the Bernanke led Federal Reserve is currently doing or from what the Yellen led Federal Reserve(which is how it seems like right now) might do in the days to come. As Fridson writes on Forbes.com “My point is rather that the range of policy options will be limited for whoever steps into Ben Bernanke’s shoes. 
Barack Obama was never going to nominate a Fed chairman who would diverge from the narrow list of realistic choices regarding interest rates.”
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)