You Have Heard the Good News About GDP, Here’s the Slightly Better News

The gross domestic product (GDP) figures for the period October to December 2020 were declared earlier in the day today. GDP is a measure of economic size of a country.

The good news is that the Indian economy is back on the growth path. It grew by 0.41% during the period. While the growth rate itself isn’t great, it comes on the back of six months of a covid led economic contraction. And that’s clearly good news.

But this bit most of you who follow the economy closely on the social media, must have already heard by now. So, let me give you some better news than this good news.

The Indian GDP is measured in two ways. One way is by adding up private consumption expenditure (the money you and I spend buying up things), government expenditure, investment and net exports (exports minus imports). If we leave government expenditure out of the GDP, what remains is the non-government GDP, which forms a bulk of the GDP. In the October to December period, it formed around 90.3% of the GDP.

For the GDP to grow on a sustainable basis, this part needs to grow. Given that the government is a small part of the Indian economy, it can only create so much growth by spending more and more money.

The non-government part of the GDP grew by 0.58% during October to December 2020, after contracting significantly during the first six months of the financial year.

What this tells us is that the private part of the economy recovered quite a bit during the period without the government trying to pump up economic growth. The government expenditure during the period was down by 1.13%. This is the slightly better news I was talking about.

The private consumption expenditure, which forms a major part of the non-government part of the GDP contracted by 2.37%, after having contracted much more, during the first six months of the financial year. This tells us that the consumers are gradually coming back to the market even though some apprehension still prevails. This apprehension is probably more towards going out and spending money in the services part of the economy.

The other important part of non-government GDP is investment. It grew by 2.56% during October to December, which is the best in a year’s time. For jobs to be created, this growth needs to be sustained in the months to come.

The other way of looking at size of the economy is to add up the value added by the various sectors. Of this, the services sector, from hotels to real estate to banking to trade to broadcasting to transport to public administration, form nearly half of the economy. And if economy has to get back on track, it is these sectors that need to get back on track. The services sector grew by 0.98% during the period, though this was better than the contraction seen during the first six months of the year.

Agriculture was the standout sector and it grew by 3.92% during the period. In fact, October to December is the biggest period for agriculture during the year and the sector has done well during its biggest quarter. On the other hand, manufacturing grew by 1.65%.

What this tells us is that the economy is gradually coming back to where it was before covid. It is worth remembering here that even before covid the Indian economic growth was slowing down. All in all, the real challenge for the Indian economy will start in the second half of the 2021-22, once the base effects of the covid led economic contraction are over. As I have said in the past, the economic growth rate during the first half of 2021-22 will go through the roof, but that will be more because of base effect than anything else.

Nonetheless, even with this recovery during the second half of the financial year, the Indian economic growth is expected to contract by 8% during 2020-21. This figure has been revised upwards. The Indian GDP was earlier expected to contract by 7.7% during the year.

The main reason for this lies in the revision of the government expenditure expected during the year. As per the first advanced estimate of the GDP for 2020-21 published in early January, the government expenditure for 2020-21 was expected to be at Rs 17.48 lakh crore. In the second advanced estimate published today, it has been revised to Rs 15.87 lakh crore, a cut of 9.2%.

From the looks of it, the central government is trying to cut down on the targeted fiscal deficit of Rs 18.49 lakh crore for 2020-21. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a government earns and what it spends.

What the Media Did Not Tell You About the Black Money Scheme


The Income Declaration Scheme(IDS) which ended on September 30, 2016, led to the declaration of Rs 65,250 crore of black money. Black money is essentially money which has been earned but on which taxes have not been paid.

The declarations will be taxed at the rate of 45 per cent and hence, are likely to net the government Rs 29,362.5 crore, over the next year. Half of this amount will have to be paid during the course of this financial year by March 31, 2017. This basically means that the government will get Rs 14,681.25 crore, in this financial year. The remaining amount has to be paid by September 30, 2017.

The media, as usual, has gone on an overdrive, highlighting the success of the scheme. One comparison that has been made is with the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme(VDIS) of 1997, the last black money declaration scheme offered by the government.

The October 2, 2016, Mumbai edition of The Times of India ran a graphic around this on its front page (given the number of advertisements that appear before the front page these days, one can hardly call the front page a front page these days). This graphic essentially said that the Income Declaration Scheme of 2016 has been 3 times bigger than VDIS of 1997. The logic for this is very straightforward. The total amount of black money declared under the VDIS 1997 was around Rs 33,000 crore. The tax collected on this at the rate of 30 per cent amounted to around Rs 10,000 crore.

The tax to be collected in the Income Declaration Scheme is three times at close to Rs 30,000 crorer. An editorial in The Economic Times published on October 3, 2016, states: “This is three times as much as the revenue garnered from the amnesty scheme of 1997.”

The trouble with this analysis is that it is very simplistic. The Indian economy now is significantly bigger than what it was in 1997-1998. The nominal GDP (a measure of the size of the economy) was 9.4 times bigger in 2015-2016 in comparison to 1997-1998. But, the total amount black money declared is only 2 times more (Rs 65,250 crore now in comparison to Rs 33,000 crore then). The tax collected is likely to be three times bigger.

Shouldn’t these basic factors be taken into account before declaring that tax collections are likely to be three times bigger? Also, the total number of declarants of black money in 2016 are 64,275. As per this Outlook story, the total number of declarants of black money in 1997 were 4.7 lakh.

The number of declarants in 2016 are way fewer than 1997, primarily because the black money declarations are now being taxed at 45 per cent against 30 per cent earlier. If the tax on the black money had been fixed at 30 per cent, the total number of declarants would have been more.

The trouble is that once we take all these factors into account, then the situation no longer remains simplistic. And once the situation is not simplistic, straightforward headlines which newspapers specialise in become difficult.  After taking all these factors into account, it is not so straightforward to say that the tax collected is three bigger.

Another factor that the media missed out on is the rise of the services sector as a part of the overall economy. The share of the services sector in the GDP has risen from 47.5 per cent in 1997-1998 to 59.93 per cent in 2013-2014.

As Arun Kumar points out in The Black Economy in India: “The services sector lends itself to black income generation since a) valuation of activity is difficult and b) it has a large component of the unorganised sector in it.”  Hence, it is safe to say that the total amount of black money as a share in the economy has risen over the last two decades.

Once these factors are taken into account, the Income Declaration Scheme no longer seems like the success it is being made out to be. Although it must be said that the government’s effort to tap into domestic black money has been much more successful than its effort to tap into black money that has left the shores of this country.

Last year the government had launched a black money window for foreign assets. Taking advantage of the compliance window, 644 declarants declared assets and income of Rs 4,164 crore in total. This meant that the government was able to collect around Rs 2,498.4 crore (60 per cent of Rs 4,164 crore) as tax revenues.

In comparison to this the Income Declaration Scheme for domestic black money has definitely been a success, but in the overall scheme of things, it is clearly not the success that it being made out to be.

Also, one danger that remains with all income declaration schemes is that they make the individuals who pay tax on time, year on year, look like idiots. Such schemes essentially tell people that as long as you are willing to pay a small penalty in the years to come, you can postpone the payment of taxes by paying a small penalty.

The Comptroller and Auditor General looked into the declarations that were made under the 1997 scheme and made some interesting observations. As it said: “The track record of declarants showed a clear scenario where they were found to have taken advantage of earlier Amnesty Schemes too…The Scheme was not in the interests of revenue and in fact it provided one more opportunity to dishonest assesses to pay tax at a preferred rate and then retire to the old habit of concealing income.”[i]

But for governments the black money amnesty schemes are an access to easy money, instead of making the more difficult decisions like shutting down loss-making companies (which to its credit the Modi government has started to push now).

To conclude, the real success of the scheme will be in the data that it will end up collecting. It needs to be made sure that the 64,275 individuals who have declared black money under the scheme, continue to pay tax in the years to come. That will be the real success of the scheme.

Hopefully, it is also the last of such schemes and in the years to come the government uses more and more information technology on expenditure data, in order to identify those who have black money and get them to cough up their share of taxes and fines. In the long-term, the only way of getting people to pay taxes is to get them to respect the system and at the same time ensure that the income tax laws are made simpler.

Postscript: If you want to read about black money issue in detail, subscribe to The Vivek Kaul Letter.

[i]A.Kumar, The Black Economy in India, Penguin Books India, 1999

The column was originally published on October 3, 2016, in Vivek Kaul’s Diary

The success of Make in India will lead to more jobs in services and not manufacturing

make in india
This column is essentially an extension of the column Devanshu Sampat wrote for The 5 Minute Wrapup on November 13, 2015. In this column Sampat talks about the challenge automation will create for the Make in India programme.

As he writes: “The costs of robots fall every year. At the same time, their complexity is on the rise. It won’t be long before cheap robots will be catering to the needs of a wide range of manufacturing firms.”

This Sampat believes “will prove to be major challenge to the government.” “Will ‘Make in India’ be successful if a large number of people remain unemployed despite a manufacturing revolution?” he asks.

As I have said in several previous columns, nearly 13 million Indians are expected to join the workforce every year. This trend will continue up to 2030. Given this, the government needs to create an environment in which jobs are created, in order to accommodate this workforce at a fast speed.

With automation and robots taking over manufacturing the number of new jobs being created will come down. And this will mean trouble for the Make in India programme given that ultimately it’s a job creation programme.

So what is the way out? The socialist mind-set of India’s politicians will look at it in a way where they may want to make it mandatory for businesses to hire and employ a certain number of people depending on the size of a firm.

To be honest I haven’t heard of such suggestions being made up until now but I won’t be surprised if such suggestions are made in the years to come, if the Make in India programme starts to fail due to automation and various other reasons.

Also, it is worth remembering here that any businessmen will automate if he can. A businessman is a capitalist and he works for ‘more’ profit and if there is an opportunity to make more profit he will try to cash in on it. And stopping that behaviour isn’t the best possible way to operate.

Further, given India’s surfeit of labour laws which make the business environment even more challenging, automation may be the best way out for any businessman.

Having said this, the question that arises here is that why should we expect the manufacturing industry to solve India’s employment problem? This is a fair question to ask. A straightforward answer for this lies in the fact that every country that has gone from being a developing country to becoming a developed one, has gone through a manufacturing revolution. India is possibly an exception to this, given that we have had a services revolution before a manufacturing one.

Nevertheless, even with automation we should not be so worried. TN Ninan in his book The Turn of the Tortoise—The Challenge and Promise of India’s Future offers a very interesting perspective on the basis of his interactions with some leading industrialists.

Take the case of RC Bhargava, the chairman of Maruti Suzuki, India’s leading car maker. As Ninan writes: “The chairman of Maruti Suzuki says, in response to a question on the greater automation that exists in newer car plants, that car factories should not be expected to solve India’s employment problem.”

So what about job growth? “If job growth is to come, according to Bhargava, it will have to be in associated areas—manning petrol pumps or maintaining and repairing vehicles, which are service sector jobs and don’t compare with high paying factory jobs.”

Bhargava also points out that every third car bought in India is not driven by the owner but a hired driver. Data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) points out that 2.6 million cars were sold in India in 2014-2015. If every third car is being driven by a driver as Bhargava talks about, then that means 8.5 lakh new jobs for drivers were created just in 2014-2015. And that is a substantial number.

The broader point is that even though manufacturing jobs may not grow, the setting up of new factories will lead to an increase in jobs in services. As Ninan writes: “The ratio of non-factory to factory jobs in the car industry is said to be 7:1. The head of another car company puts the figure at 16:1. Other manufacturers of engineering goods endorse the view that shop-floor employment in the engineering goods sector is unlikely to grow rapidly because of steadily increasing automation as well as gains in productivity.”

Ninan also recounts an interaction with Jamshyd Godrej, chairman and managing director of Godrej & Boyce, the diversified engineering company. Godrej “recalls a time early on when the majority of his company’s employees worked in the factory.” Now, the number of employees working outside the factory are four to five time the number of employees working in the factory.

The moral of the story, as Ninan puts it is “Success in quite a lot of manufacturing sectors, therefore, leads to employment growth in services, not manufacturing. Not that it should matter, since incomes will be better in both than in agriculture.”

In this scenario, it is important that the government realises that the success of Make in India, should not depend on the number of manufacturing jobs it ends up creating. Even if it does not create manufacturing jobs, it will create jobs in services.

Hence, the government should keep working towards a better ease of doing business environment. The labour laws need to be simplified. The physical infrastructure needs to improve. The roads, railways and ports need to improve. The contracts need to be honoured. A bankruptcy law needs to be in place. The courts need to function well.

The simple things need to be done well.

(The column originally appeared on The Daily Reckoning on November 17, 2015)