When we talk about the global financial crisis, one question that pops up in lots of people’s heads is about where the money went. Since every trade involves two parties, it is argued that every loser has a corresponding winner, and that most commentary about the global financial crisis (of 2008) doesn’t talk about these winners. Everyone knows about the havoc that the crisis caused when prices went down (rather suddenly). The havoc that the crisis caused when prices initially went up (rather slowly) is less well documented.
The reason winners don’t get too much footage is that firstly, they are widely distributed, and secondly they spent away all their money. Think about a stock or a CDO or a bond being a like a parcel that you play by passing the parcel. The only thing is that every time you receive the parcel, you make a payment, and then pass on the parcel after receiving a higher payment. Finally, when the whistle blows, one person has the parcel in his hand, and it explodes in his face, ruining him. We know enough about people like this. A large number of banks lost a lot of money holding parcels when the whistle blew. Some went bust, while others had to be bailed out by governments. We know enough of this story so I don’t need to repeat here.
What is interesting is about the winners. Every person who held the parcel for a small amount of time was a winner, albeit a small winner. There were several such winners, each of whom “won” a small amount of money, and spent it (remember that the asset bubble in the early noughties was responsible for increasing consumption among common people). This spending increased demand for various goods and services produced in several countries. This increasing demand led to greater investment in the production facilities of these goods and services. Apart from that, they also increased expectations of growth in demand of these goods.
The damage the crisis did on the way up was to skew expectations of growth in different sectors, thus skewing investment (both in terms of financial and human capital). The spending caused by “small wins” for consumers put in place unreasonable expectations, and by the time it was known that this increased demand came as a result of an asset bubble, a lot of capital had been committed. And this would create imbalances in the “real economy”.
Yes, the asset bubble of the last decade did produce winners. The winners begat more winners (people whose goods and services were bought). However the skewed expectations that the wins created were to cause damage in the longer term. Unfortunately, I don’t see this story being told adequately, when the financial crisis is being talked about. After all, the losers are more spectacular.
In an article arguing why Kolkata is best placed to be India’s “best city” in another 20 years, Aakar Patel (I’ve started looking forward to his columns in Mint Lounge) mentions that there isn’t much corruption in the governments in Bengal (at both the center and city level). I don’t know the reasoning for this, but I wonder if this is primarily responsible for the long run that the Communists had at the helm in that state.
I had argued in a not-so-recent piece in Pragati that big governments tend to be bad governments . I had argued that big government means more ways in which government employees can seek rents, and hence one way of reducing corruption is by reducing the size of the government. Now, assume that for some magical reason, a certain section of the population is sincere and incorruptible. In that case, big government need not be bad government. In other words, people don’t really resent the presence of government everywhere since they don’t see any rent seeking by the government officers. And since they are not unhappy with the size of the government, they don’t mind voting in every time the communists, who will keep the big government!
So I wonder if it is the incorruptibility of the Bengali (for whatever reason; I’m drawing this inference from Patel’s article) that has led to the long communist rule there. Incidentally, the one time the government was seen to be corrupt (in discretionary land allotments in favour of the Tatas, Salim Group, etc.) it wasn’t voted back to power!
I live near Basavanagudi in South Bangalore, hardly 6 km from the city’s best theatre Ranga Shankara. In the other direction, a (relatively) new auditorium which plays host to several promising plays (KH Kala Soudha) is even closer. There are times when we consider going for a play at one of these locations. To date, however, I’ve been to a performance (can’t call it a play) at KH Kala Soudha once. The only time I’ve been to Ranga Shankara was five years ago, back when i was in college.
I think one of the reasons for this is that I can never muster the necessary incentive to go watch a play. A large number of plays, as I understand, hold nothing much of promise in the stories that they tell. I’m not much of an actor, and don’t have an eye for fine acting which I want to discover. Yes, sometimes the way some stories are told is fantastic, and this is even more so when the play in question is telling a known story (the one play I’ve watched in Ranga Shankara was a Harivansh Rai Bachchan interpretation of Hamlet; where they use Yakshagana dancers for the play-within-a-play, and that was a fantastic way of telling the story).
Still, the thought of having to sit there in one place, without doing anything that might distract the performers, focusing all my energies on the performance, for the “option value” that there might be something really insightful in what the performers are trying to convey is daunting. With widespread sponsorship from governments and corporates, most plays are very reasonably priced, but the attention they demand can put me off.
And then I wonder if the reason I don’t like plays so much is because they’re rehearsed, that everything goes according to a particular script, that every move of the actor has been choreographed! The way plays are structured essentially requires discipline on part of all the actors, and the play could sometimes be seen as just an exhibition of discipline! I must mention here that I have even less patience for other more obvious exhibitions of discipline such as parades.
I read that the Rangashankara festival is coming up soon, and I do hope I can get myself to at least check out a few plays (especially since I’m now fairly rich in terms of time). However, I must say it will take a lot of convincing on your part to make me come watch your play. If you say “we’re performing Shakespeare’s Romeo and juliet” I’ll say “why should I come watch you when I can read the play?”. But if you tell me that there’s a story that you want to say, which you’re going to say in a particularly unique way, then I might be interested.
Tax Deducted at Source. TDS. A wonderful measure by the government to hide from us what they are taking away from us. The concept that there is a substantial difference between your “cost to company” and your “take home pay” has been ingrained in all off us, and so we don’t question the diffference. This way, it makes it easy for the government to take away large amounts of money as tax, without really making the taxpayers feel it.
I’ve messed up. Due to a combination of reasons I haven’t yet filed my tax returns for last year (2008-09) and now my tax advisor tells me I have two weeks to do it. And calculating the tax payable for the umpteenth time, I now notice that there has been an error in all my previous calculations. And the additional tax that I need to pay (has to be paid along with a fine for paying late) is not insubstantial.
TDS is a necessary system in order to enforce compliance and putting in checks and balances into the system. It helps the government get its finances on time and save a large part of trouble in revenue collection. What it does, however, is to obscure the amount of tax that is being deducted. A clever method, I think, devised by governments to take away a large part of your money from you without you noticing it!
Of course this is accompanied by this ritual called filing tax returns when you do get a chance to see how much the government has taken away from you, but considering that for most people most of their taxes would’ve been accurately deducted, most people would just go through the process mechanically and few would actually look carefully at the numbers!
The next time you are doing your returns, I strongly urge you to look at the numbers carefully. Look at how much you have actually earned, and how much of it is being taken away by the government without you really noticing it! Open the calculator in your mobile phone and calculate the proportion of time you work every year for someone else – for someone called the sarkaar. There’s a good chance you’ll start demanding more from the government after that.