THE country is paying a very high cost for the state of denial of both the Congress and the BJP on the impact of the global economic recession. Mired as they are in the neo-liberal mindset, both are living in an illusion that the current recession is a case of the normal rise and fall of the capitalist business cycle. The current recession, as we had repeatedly shown in these columns, is caused by the structural inadequacies of the capitalist system and is, therefore, a crisis of capitalism and not due to lack of or faulty regulations or excessive greed by a few captains of international finance.
World Bank's Global Economic Prospects (GEP), 2009 says: “What began six months ago with a massive de-leveraging in financial markets has turned into one of the sharpest global economic contradictions in modern history”. It continues to say: “Global GDP is expected to contract by 1.7 per cent in 2009 which would be the first decline in world output on record”.
“The deceleration in economic growth in low-and middle income countries as a group is expected to match the deceleration in high-income countries. The developing world is anticipated to see growth fall from 5.8 per cent in 2008 to 2.1 in 2009, a drop of 3.7 percentage points, similar to the fall in high-income economies (drop of 3.7 per cent from 0.7 per cent to minus 3.0 per cent). This highly synchronous growth collapse cannot be solely explained by trade linkages, but illustrates also that developing countries have been directly hit in their domestic economies by the financial crisis. The reversal of capital flows, collapse in stock markets, and in general the deterioration in financing conditions have brought investment growth in the developing countries to a halt, and in many developing countries investment is sharply declining.” (emphasis added)
This is precisely what we had analysed and anticipated in these columns in the past. On this basis, we had argued that unless there is a quantum leap in public investments, domestic demand and employment cannot be shored up. Without this, the economy cannot be stimulated for growth and to prevent the slide to recession. Unfortunately, the Manmohan Singh government has paid little heed to this. We had even stated both on the floor of the parliament and outside that the general elections cannot be used as an excuse to postpone such a decision as this would have damaging and possibly irreversible impact on our economy.
Given their state of denial, this refusal to sharply increase public investments has had its inevitable effect in the sharp drop in our industrial output. India's industrial output dropped to an alarming minus 2.3 per cent growth in March 2009. Of this, the manufacturing sector, which has nearly 80 per cent weightage in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) fell by a whopping minus 3.3 per cent.
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in India has been estimated to have dropped by over 55 per cent – from $4.4 billion in March 2008 to $2 billion in March 2009. India's exports have declined for the seventh consecutive month in April 2009 amounting to a fall of 33 per cent. Similarly, imports contracted by 35 per cent. While this may narrow the trade deficit, the export targets for 2008-09 are much less than even the revised scaling down done by the commerce ministry.
Notwithstanding the bombastic claims made regarding India's GDP growth rates by the government, the GEP has estimated the current growth rate this year to be 5.5 per cent projected to fall to 4 per cent next year. Apart from having a devastating impact on employment (with reports of various agencies indicating that over a crore of jobs have already been lost and many lakhs returning from foreign lands having lost jobs there), this sharp fall in the growth rate has increased the level of poverty in India with the GEP estimating that we are now only ahead of Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of population below the poverty line with over a quarter of Indians “living in extreme poverty” living on less than $1.25 a day. In terms of purchasing power parity, this tallies with the estimation of the Arjun Sengupta Report of 78 per cent of Indians living on less than Rs 20 a day.
Given this reality check of our economic fundamentals, it is clear that the Indian people need to brace themselves for much harder economic conditions in the near future. This can be prevented only by the new government substantially hiking public investment that will generate both employment and demand while, at the same time, building the much needed economic and social infrastructure in the country.