Rajan is right, the world does not need another China


The index of industrial production (IIP) for the month of October 2014 fell by 4.2%, in comparison to October 2013. IIP is a measure of the industrial activity within the country.
The biggest fall within the IIP came from ‘Telephone Instruments (including Mobile Phones & Accessories)’ which fell by a massive 78.3%. Several analysts have linked this massive fall to the decision of Nokia to shut-down its mobile-phone manufactruing factory in Chennai.
The fall “reflects the impact of the shutdown of the Chennai-based Nokia mobile manufacturing plant,” write Chetan Ahya and Upasana Chachra of Morgan Stanley in a research note dated December 13, 2014. Nokia shut-down the factory on November 1, 2014. Hence, production must have been falling through October and that is reflected in the IIP number.
If the shut-down of one factory manufacturing mobile phones has led to such a massive fall in telecom manufacturing in the country, what does that tell us? It tells us that Nokia was just about the only company manufacturing mobile phones in India. Even the home grown Indian brands (and there are many of them), which now have a significant presence in the mobile phone market, also don’t manufacture mobile phones in the country. They simply import phones from China and put their own brand name on it.
In fact, mobile phones are a fairly complicated instrument, we don’t even produce the 
rakhis, pitchkaris and ganeshas that we buy at different times of the year to celebrate different festivals. It is cheaper for businessmen to buy things over the counter in China or manufacture them there, and simply ship it to India.
India lacks competitiveness even in making the most basic products. So, everything from the most complicated electronic products to nail-cutters that we buy, are made in China.
Keeping this in mind, where does the 
Make in India programme launched by the prime minister Narendra Modi stand. The website of the Make in India programme defines it as “a major new national program designed to transform India into a global manufacturing hub.”
There are a couple of questions that crop up here. The first is that when Indian companies are not manufacturing goods in India and sourcing them from China, why will the foreigners come to India and make it a global manufacturing hub?
The second and the more important question is can the world absorb another global manufacturing hub like China? This point was raised by Raghuram Rajan, governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) 
in a recent speech.
Rajan started his speech talking about slowdown of global growth. As he said: “The global economy is still weak, despite a strengthening recovery in the United States. The Euro area is veering close to recession, Japan has already experienced two quarters of negative growth after a tax hike.”
Over and above this things in China are not looking good either. Albert Edwards of 
Société Générale whose work I closely follow has been talking about things not being well in China for a while now. In his latest research note dated December 11, 2014, Edwards writes: “Chinese inflation data surprised to the downside this week with November’s producer prices falling more deeply than expected at 2.7% – a record 33 consecutive months of yoy[year on year] declines.”
Producers price index is essentially what we call the wholesale price index in India and its been falling for 33 consecutive months in China. What this means is that prices have been falling in China and China can end up exporting this deflation or fall in prices to other parts of the world.
Long story short: Global economy will not grow anywhere as fast as it was in the past or even currently is. This is a sentiment echoed by Niels C. Jensen, in 
The Absolute Return Letter for November 2014, where he writes: “I don’t think GDP growth at an aggregate level will return to levels experienced in the past anytime soon.” Jensen is another analyst whose newsletter I closely follow. The International Monetary Fund has also been downgrading its global growth forecasts.
In this scenario, how much sense does it make to build an export led growth strategy right from scratch. As Rajan put it in his speech: “Slow growing industrial countries will be much less likely to be able to absorb a substantial additional amount of imports in the foreseeable future. Other emerging markets certainly could absorb more, and a regional focus for exports will pay off. But the world as a whole is unlikely to be able to accommodate another export-led China.”
Over and above this, developed countries are also trying to get their respective manufacturing sectors up and running again. The 
Make in India strategy will have to counter that as well. “Industrial countries themselves have been improving capital-intensive flexible manufacturing, so much so that some manufacturing activity is being “re-shored”. Any emerging market wanting to export manufacturing goods will have to contend with this new phenomenon,” Rajan said.
And last but not the least, China will not sit around doing nothing if India gets aggressive on the export front. “When India pushes into manufacturing exports, it will have China, which still has some surplus agricultural labour to draw on, to contend with. Export-led growth will not be as easy as it was for the Asian economies who took that path before us,” Rajan pointed out.
Moral of the story: just because something has worked in the past, doesn’t mean it will work now. This does not mean that India should stop banking on an export led strategy totally. What it means is that an export led strategy of “subsidizing exporters with cheap inputs as well as an undervalued exchange rate” that worked beautifully for Japan, South East Asia, South Korea and China, will not work at this point of time.
In this scenario, if the government should first encourage Indian companies to make products in India for the Indian market. Doing that would be a good starting point. This would mean trying to improve the ease of doing business in India. 
In the latest Ease of Doing Business rankings, India ranks 142 among the 189 countries that were considered for the ranking.
On the critical parameters of starting a new business, dealing with construction permits and enforcing contracts, the country ranked 158th, 184th and 186
th, respectively. These rankings need to improve if Indian businesses are to be encouraged to invest in India.
There are a whole host of things that need to be done. As Rajan put it: “This means we have to work on creating the strongest sustainable unified market we can, which requires a reduction in the transactions costs of buying and selling throughout the country. Improvements in the physical transportation network I discussed earlier will help, but so will fewer, but more efficient and competitive intermediaries in the supply chain from producer to the consumer. A well designed GST bill, by reducing state border taxes, will have the important consequence of creating a truly national market for goods and services, which will be critical for our growth in years to come.”
Over and above this, labour reforms need to be carried out as well. Unless these and many other steps are carried out, what seem like innovative policy proposals, will end up sounding like hollow marketing slogans.
While the government has made all the right noises on this front, no significant economic reform has happened until now. As Arun Shourie
told The Indian Express in a recent interview quoting the legendary Urdu poet Akbar Allahabadi: “Plateon ke aane ki awaaz toh aa rahi hai, khaana nahin aa raha (The  plates’ sound can be heard but the food is not coming).”
To conclude, once Indians start making in India, the foreigners will automatically follow.

The article originally appeared on www.equitymaster.com as a part of The Daily Reckoning, on Dec 16, 2014

Labour reforms: What Modi’s ‘Make in India’ call can learn from the Bolsheviks

narendra_modiVivek Kaul

I was just joking to a friend during the course of a discussion in early August that soon we will start talking about the Rajasthan model of development. And that seems to have happened sooner than I had estimated.
Business Standard in an editorial titled The Rajasthan Model today (August 19,2014) writes that Vasundra Raje, the chief minister of Rajasthan “is single-handedly creating a “Rajasthan model” of development.” This model, the paper goes on to write, differs from other models like the “Bihar model” and the “Gujarat model” in putting “liberal economic reform at the centre of the development strategy”.
Labour reforms are a key part of what seems to be emerging as the “Rajasthan model”. It is well worth mentioning here that the size of the organised work force in India is only around 15.8% of the total workforce (Source:
What’s Holding Back India’s Labour Market Environment? Part 1, Morgan Stanley, August 12, 2014). And this work force which is highly unionised and tends to punch over its weight, has held back the growth of the Indian manufacturing sector.
Before we go any further let’s go back a little in history. Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia abdicated(i.e. relinquished) his throne in early 1917, after a massive revolt broke out. As Alan Beattie writes in
False Economy—A Surprising Economic History of the World “Undermined by Russia’s dismal military failure on the Eastern Front of the First World War, the Tsar abdicated in February 1917 after a massive rolling revolt grew in Petrograd [known as St Petersburg till 1914, changed to Leningrad in 1924 and back to St Petersburg in 1991]…Starting with industrial workers, the rebellion then progressed to thousands of mutinying soldiers. This was a popular uprising but not a communist uprising.”
In fact, the communists were caught napping around the time of the popular uprising. “The ‘Bolshevik’ political grouping led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, which would eight months later take control of the country and become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was taken by surprise. Many of its key members were not even in Russia at the time, giving rise to the faintly comic spectacle of a bunch of revolutionaries hurrying home to catch up with a revolution,” writes Beattie.
Over and above that the Bolsheviks did not have support of people across the length and breadth of Russia. The Socialist Revolutionaries had that support. Nevertheless the Bolsheviks still managed to seize power. What worked in favour of the Bolsheviks was their “increasing control over Petrograd’s ‘soviet’, or workers’ organization, through the months that followed.”
As Beattie writes “They [i.e. the Bolsheviks] watched their rivals punch themselves out and exhaust local popular support by trying to run a provisional government after the February revolution. Amid mounting discontent with the [First World] war, which was still continuing, the Bolsheviks’ October revolution was a special forces assassination of a tottering government, not a pitched battle against the commanding heights of a functioning state.”
In fact, more people were accidentally killed when director Sergei Eisenstein was making a movie on the October revolution than were killed “during the event itself”. The Bolsheviks managed to punch way above their weight because their support was concentrated around Petrograd where the seat of power was, in comparison, the support of the Socialist Revolutionaries was spread across Russia’s vast interior. And given this, as Beattie writes “The Bolsheviks found it amazingly easy simply to dismiss the Constituent Assembly which was supposed to take power and in which the Socialist Revolutionaries had a clear majority, and take control themselves.”
The Indian labour market is similarly placed. The organised labour tends to punch above its weight like the Bolsheviks, primarily because labour laws are rigged in its favour. It is also unionised and the unions ensure that any prospect of labour reform which is beneficial to the overall labour force and not to organised labour, is vociferously opposed.

If genuine labour reform has to happen, it is this ability of the organised labour force to punch above its weight, that needs to be controlled. Let’s take the case of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947. According to this Act any factory employing more than 100 workers needs the permission of the state government, if it decides to lay off a worker. The permission to lay off employees if the situation demands so is difficult to get.
This has led to a situation where firms continue to remain small even when they have an opportunity to grow. It also explains why a country like Bangaldesh manages to export more apparel than India.
Economist Arvind Panagariya in an open letter to Rahul Gandhi in November 2013 wrote that “India exported less apparel than much smaller Bangaldesh and less than one-tenth that by China.” Most Indian apparel firms start small and continue to remain small.
This leads to a situation where they cannot benefit from the economies of scale and hence, cannot compete in the export market. In their book 
India’s Tryst with Destiny, Jagdish Bhagwati and Panagariya point out that 92.4% of the workers in this sector work with small firms which have forty-nine or less workers. Now compare this to China where large and medium firms make up around 87.7% of the emplo
yment in the apparel sector.
Given this, the smallness of the Indian apparel sector, the economies of scale never come into play.
As Panagariya wrote in the Business Standard recently “It is astonishing that Indian laws view a factory of 100 workers as a large, corporate firm. In the United States, any firm with fewer than 250 workers is classified as “small”, while a firm with 250 to 500 workers is classified as “medium”. Even the World Bank, a development institution, defines a firm with 50 to 300 workers as being of medium size, and not large.” This ensures that a firm that starts small, continues to remain small. And this ultimately has an impact on job creation. As Chetan Ahya and Upasana Chachra of Morgan Stanley point out in a research note titled What’s Holding Back India’s Labour Market Environment? Part 1 “All of these ultimately lead to lower job growth. Indeed, the manufacturing sector accounts for only 12.9% of GDP in India (2013) vs. 31.8% in China (as of 2011), 23.7% in Indonesia, 20.5% in the Philippines, and 14.8% in Brazil.”
History tells us that the creation of a strong and robust manufacturing sector is very important for robust economic growth. But in India’s case the system as it stands is rigged in favour of the incumbent large firms and organised labour.
The Industrial Disputes Act also requires the firm to take consent from the workers before modifying an existing job description. “This creates additional rigidities in the use of labour in response to changing market conditions,” write Ahya and Chachra.
Another tricky point is the fact that only 10% of the workforce is required to start a trade union. As the Trade Unions (Amendment) Act, 2001 points out “No trade union of workmen shall be registered unless at least 10% or 100, whichever is less, subject to a minimum of 7 workmen engaged or employed in the establishment or industry.”
This leads to a situation where there is “scope for multiple trade unions in a single factory”. As Ahya and Chachra point out in a note titled
What’s Holding Back India’s Labour Market Environment? Part II dated August 18, 2014, “A company with 700 workers can have 70 trade unions. In most other countries, the requirements for minimum membership for trade unions to be recognized are higher than those in India, reducing the scope for multiplicity of unions.”
In Pakistan at least 20% of the workmen are required for the trade union to be registered. In Bangaldesh the number stands at 30%. Sri Lanka requires a minimum of seven employees for a trade union, but collective bargaining is only allowed if the trade union represents a minimum of 40% of the total employees.
Then there are multiplicity of laws to cope up with. This is primarily because labour law is a concurrent subject and both the central and state governments can legislate on it. As Ahya and Chachra point out “This has resulted in multiplicity of laws, at times with overlapping jurisdictions. Currently there are 44 central laws and about 160 state laws on the subject (ILO, 2013).” It is not rocket science to conclude that it is very difficult for any entrepreneur to follow all these laws.
As Reuters columnist Andy Mukherjee wrote in a recent column “As a textile businessman recently tweeted, if small and mid-sized companies in India followed all existing rules, “your underwear will cost what your jeans cost today”.”
The Rajasthan government has begun chipping away at these laws. One of the changes proposed is that a firm needs to approach the state government when laying off workers only if it employes three hundred or more workers. These are state level changes being made to central government regulation, and hence, they need the assent of the president.
But Rajasthan is just a small part of the overall puzzle. Labour market reforms are needed at the central government level especially if Narendra Modi’s recent “Make in India” call needs to be taken seriously.
Currently, China accounts for 17.5% of the total global manufacturing exports. India in comparison stands only at 1.6%. Labour markets reforms at the central government level are needed if that number has to go up.

The article originally appeared on www.Firstbiz.com on August 20, 2014
(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)