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Literacy improves fastest in poorest states

The census has good news on literacy. This explodes leftist claims that economic reforms have benefited only elites while bypassing the poor, and that social improvements have slowed, not accelerated, after 1991. Literacy is a not an elite benefit. It benefits those at the social bottom, giving them dignity, status and income potential. The census More >

Famous Populist, Secret Liberaliser

There is no contradiction between accelerating economic growth, being fiscally prudent and showering welfarist handouts to woo voters. An excellent example is documented in The Economic Freedom of the States of India 2011, brought out last month by the Friedrich Naumann Institute and Cato Institute. It shows that under Y S Rajashekhara Reddy (or YSR), More >

Fast breeder reactors are the least safe

Nuclear safety has become a top priority after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Safety at all Indian plants is being reviewed, and coastal reactors may be built on higher ground for tsunami protection. Critics have objected to unproven French reactors for the Jaitapur nuclear power complex. Yet critics and agitators are ignoring the biggest More >

Forget WikiLeaks, codify House privileges

WikiLeaks continues to amuse rather than enlighten us. The latest leaks took us back to the cash-for-votes scandal of 2008, when the Congress and allies desperately sought the support of small parties to survive a confidence vote after the Indo-US nuclear deal. At that time, BJP MPs displayed huge stacks of currency allegedly offered by More >

Freedom means faster growth

How do we measure economic freedom, and how relevant is it for economic growth? Some answers come from Economic Freedom of the States of India 2011, a report just brought out by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Cato Institute and Indicus Analytics. The report shows that measuring economic freedom at the state level is a difficult More >

Cash transfers are a good idea but hasten slowly

The finance minister’s Budget speech proposed a radical change in subsidies: instead of trying (and failing) to provide subsidized goods to the needy, the government would provide cash transfers. This would cut leakages in subsidies, which former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi estimated at 85% of outlays. By June, a task force headed by Nandan Nilekani More >

Budget 2011: A tie between deficit and growth

In response, the Sensex initially jumped nearly 600 points, but handed back much of the gains after investors realised some of the Budget’s projections were based on statistical revisions and future optimism rather than fiscal stringency. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s Budget lacks tax pyrotechnics, yet it reveals a remarkably improved fiscal position and a conceptual More >

Gulf: Rising Shias, uneasy Sunnis

Indians are rightly excited by the jasmine revolution that has overthrown autocracies in Tunisia and Egypt, and may oust Muammar Gaddafi in Libya too. They hope that the jasmine revolution will spread to the rest of the Middle East, bringing some sort of democracy throughout the region. However, there is one huge difference between North More >

Dump opium in Afghanistan, bankrupt Taliban

One reason for the Taliban’s resilience in Afghanistan is the big money they make from the opium trade. Attempts to cut off external financing for the Taliban have failed since it generates so much money within the country. The US has tried destroying the poppy crop. It has tried to use friendly mullahs to denounce More >

Middle East’s uncertain democracy

Excitement over the revolution in Egypt is tempered with worries that old autocrats will be replaced by new ones. The Middle East has no tradition of democratic institutions. Why so? There are many reasons, but we will focus on the shallowness of the Middle East’s colonisation. Britain and France directly ruled colonies in Asia and More >

Big graft yes, but big growth too

I am delighted that public outrage is mounting over corruption. To get better insights into the nature of corruption today, I discussed the issue over lunch with three businessmen who had headed small and mid-cap companies. Their immediate reaction was that things had got worse. But on closer examination, they said that the rising problem More >

It’s social spend boom, stupid

Economists have, for over a month, had an internet debate on growth and social spending. It started with the Financial Times citing Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen as saying it would be “stupid” to focus on double-digit GDP growth without spending more on social sectors. The newspaper also cited Jagdish Bhagwati, a potential Nobel Laureate, as More >

Budget 2011: Rising prices & black money under the spotlight this year

Most budgets are dominated by tax rates and high finance. But Budget 2011 will be dominated by inflation and corruption, the current two political hot potatoes. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will have to announce tax and administrative changes to curb prices and black money. At the same time, he will try to enthuse investors by More >

Electoral irrelevance of Cabinet reshuffles

The Cabinet reshuffle last week led to profuse but mostly vacuous analysis on TV. Many analysts claimed the reshuffle aimed to influence the 2014 parliamentary elections. Some opined that the coming state election in Uttar Pradesh was a major consideration: three ministers from that state had been given Cabinet rank. Many others expressed dismay that More >

MFIs must go beyond lending

Foxconn , the world’s biggest manufacturer of electronic components, runs an entire city of 4,50,000 workers in China, Foxconn city. This summer, 14 workers committed suicide. The media blamed this on low wages and bad working conditions. One Chinese professor wrote that Foxconn’s working conditions were actually high by Chinese standards. Another said 14 suicides More >