Econ Mom, voter perceptions and a dash of Tennyson

“Hi, Mom! What’s for dinner?” That was Teenager, back from his badminton practice at about 8:00 p.m.

“Well,” I said enthusiastically, “there’s roti, beans, dal and carrot raita in curd!” That was me, happy and secure in my belief that I’m feeding all the right stuff to my family.

“What? Beans? Uuuuuuuuuugggggggggggghhhh. NOONE eats beans, Ma, except us. And we eat it every third day! Beans, potato, beans, brinjal, beans, capsicum, beans…?”

I looked at him speculatively. Teenager has taken this one thing from me, for sure. He can exaggerate. The boy can have a golden career as an economist, I started thinking. “The GDP growth rate of India is 7%, nnnno, its actually 7.3%, nnnnnnnnaaahhh, it’s more like 7.8%!” Yeah, he can really do a fine career out of this wonderful trait. Put him in the RBI, and your CPI will go crashing down to 4% or wherever it is that Urjit wants it to be. Put him in NITI Aayog, and you will get your growth numbers right. Put him in the Commerce Ministry, and India’s trade to world trade ratio will cross the dreaded 3% psychological benchmark in a matter of minutes! Heehee, the boy has potential, I tell you. He simply HAS to become an economist.

“I am NOT going to eat this! Give me something interesting, Mom, I’m hungry! And I’m bored” That broke my reverie and jerked me back to reality. And the reality is that teenagers have absolutely no clue or interest in any career profiles. They have only two massive sensations. One, hunger and two, boredom. Sigh.

“Beans are great for health! And …”

“Mom, why can’t you make Chhole-bhature or pasta for dinner?”

“Because the former is oily and the latter is maida. Only calories. No nutrients. Beta, dinner has to be healthy! And this week, we’ve not really had beans for about…”

“20 hours,” piped in the Hubs, with a sly smile. “This time she has really broken all records and cooked beans within the usual 24 hour deadline!”

“Oh, shut up, both of you! And boys, you can’t declare a strike at 8:00 p.m. Food is ready, I am beat and I am not going to cook anything else. It’s too late for that.”

“This is so not fair!” Teenager, indignant with rage and upset at the gastronomical disappointment. “If it’s not possible to change the menu at the last minute, then ask me earlier, Mom. Next time, ask me when you go shopping for veggies. ONLY the vegetables I approve should be bought next week. Else you’ll keep on dishing out what you feel is right…”

That’s interesting! Thought Econ Mom, surfacing suddenly in Mrs. Phadke’s kitchen. Hmmm, isn’t that exactly what the State Election Commissioner had been saying, just a couple of days ago, in our meeting at Mumbai?

“We need to take a look beyond our usual role.” The Commissioner, as always, had come well prepared with his ideas on what needs to be done. “The role of the State Election Commission of Maharashtra (SECM) is to conduct local body elections in a free, fair and transparent manner. And we do that, to the best of our capacities and abilities. But the real question is, even if the election is conducted fairly, are people really getting a fair choice to choose from?”

For the uninitiated reader, let me just put in a little bit of gyan. When the candidates file their nomination forms for an election, that is when the voters come to know what is the mix of people from which they select a people’s representative for themselves. With great foresight and I must say, with a lot of gumption, the state of Maharashtra offers a “NOTA” i.e. “None Of The Above” option for its voters, so that the voters do not have to always choose the least of all evils. They are getting a choice to say that they want none of the candidates at all. And this, is supposed to be an absolute triumph for democracy.

However, deeper thought tells you that while NOTA is great for freedom of expression, the fact that hordes of people have this expression is itself worrisome. Thus, what is happening is that candidates filing nomination do not match the expectations of the electorate. The authorities know this, but they can’t do much about it. So, they decide to give the NOTA option to the electorate so that their voice can be heard loud and clear on the day of the election. “We do NOT like these candidates.” The problem is, that it is kinda late to do anything about this, just pretty much like it was too late for me to cook a different recipe for Teenager at 8 p.m.

“The true solution is to give them a voice before the elections.” That was what the Commissioner was saying in the meeting. Is it really necessary to do that? Even while this thought hit my mind, I got the answer. “Our job is to do everything in our scope to strengthen democracy. If the electorate is not happy with the candidature, we can’t just sit around offering NOTA. NOTA might bring the issue to light, but it certainly does not resolve it.” NOTA is the dressing on the wound. The team was brainstorming on why there is the wound in the first place.

And out of that emerged one solution. Accordingly, we’re currently doing a snap poll on voter perceptions, or what the voters want. What kind of a candidate do they really want? Do they want people who are clean, or is the priority on efficiency? How many voters feel that candidates ought to be well-educated in order to be a good representative? What proportion of voters feel that women make better representatives than men? How many people are of the opinion that good candidates stay away due to criminalization of politics?

Data analysis will soon reveal voters’ preferences. This is to be done prior to the filing of nomination forms, so that the political party heads too will get a pulse of what the common man wants. This will hopefully feed into a more scientifically designed ticket distribution process, with at least a few deserving candidates getting the tickets. Rather like buying only those veggies that Teenager approves of. This will truly give voice to the electorate and make the process more participative, which is exactly where we want to go, right?

Right, but, will this work? Even if the data analysis brings out these trends, are political parties going to toe the line? Are they going to go by statistics, or by the simple chemistry of dynasty and money? We all know the answer, don’t we? Then am I doing something futile? Why should we create this data-base on voter perceptions when we know that the true users of this data, the political parties, can, but won’t use it?

I sat in my chair, post dinner, brooding over the futility issue, when Teenager started a discussion with Daddy dearest on poetry. They were both arguing about what a line in some poem meant. I was far away from the discussion, disturbed and restless. Suddenly, Teenager propped his English text in front of my eyes. “Mom? Have you ever read these lines?” he asked.

And Econ Mom found her answer. In a dog-eared literature text-book. The answer to why a scientifically designed statistical survey has to bring out voter issues, political parties be damned. “Tis better to have loved and lost”, said Alfred Lord Tennyson, “than never to have loved at all.” Bravo.

 

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Yours truly…When Raghu wrote a letter!

Dear Reader,

Hi! Now that Urjit Patel takes over as the Governor, Raghuram Rajan wanted to share those wicked tips on handling the high profile job properly! Read the heart-to-heart, Governor-to-Governor letter in my humor column “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/yours-truly/article9022386.ece#comments. Else, read it here directly. Enjoy!

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Dear Bro,

Hi… ummm, let me firstly do the right stuff and welcome you to this super-high profile job. It’s obviously every economist’s dream job, and yes, highly gratifying, intellectually satisfying, policy-oriented and autonomous as well (err, at least on paper)!

Okay, formalities over, let me now talk plain truth. This job is the most thankless, frustrating, annoying and the most unenviable post an economist can ever hope to man. And while I’m extremely proud of you, I must convey that what I feel for you right now borders between high anxiety to plain paranoia. Friedman help us all! Why did you accept this, man?

Well, so I thought that I’ll be a good friend and share some of those few experiences that you may benefit from, as you step into the ring to try and control inflation, growth, employment, currency, exchange rates, FOREX reserves, bond yields, bank assets, RBI pay-scales, central banking autonomy as well as the Government’s ego, all at the same time, while still managing to look completely unruffled and fit from your squash game last evening.

The media is the undoubtedly most exasperating part of the job and will insist on calling you Santa Claus (post rate-cut), inflation warrior (post rate hike) and rockstar (when you maintain status-quo). Hehehe, I may be the rockstar, but you are the quintessential rapper, eh?

There’s news from the RBI, Yo! It’s sure lookin good/

Sentiment is up, so is the market mood!

China is down, but the US looks bright/

 

We’ve got a new warrior, Yo! A corporate-wala knight!

Rap…….Patel Rap!

All the best, Bro. I never quite knew how to react to these crazy things they wrote about me. So here is my first advice. It is alright even if you do not plan your post-policy review speech, but you MUST plan how you’ll react to the rapper analogy. Will you be white-lipped and disapproving, or give just a plain bored look, or will you laugh outright? My personal strategy was always “review with a smile”. That humour quotient always works. And oh boy, are you going to need that humour!

A word of caution. Avoid idioms and phrases and just talk plain ole repo. You’ll do well to steer clear of the land of the blind, one-eyed, two-eyed or any kind of king completely. Also stay away from regular birds like hawks, doves, owls; run in the opposite direction on spotting the black swan.

What can I advice you about inflation targeting? It was you who spearheaded the entire process and helped set the bandwidths around the 4 per cent inflation mark. But Bro, there is this other targeting I have to caution you about. Tch, tch, tch, you are too international for this profile. Born in Kenya, graduated from LSE, an MPhil from Oxford, and a PhD from Yale? A stint with IMF and BCG? Are we in trouble! Earlier it was only me who was “unIndian”, but now there’s also Brett Lee and you. Wonder if they’ll invite Brett next. Anyway, welcome to the madness. I am sure you will deal with it with your usual good sense, and set those bandwidths of tolerance around your profile.

Don’t let the volatility in markets lead to volatility in your mind. Let statisticians worry about the ARIMA models. Remember, GARIMA is more important that ARIMA. A final word: When you are having a hard time, read ‘Tweakonomics’ in Business Line.

Sincerely,

Banker on the move.

Econ Mom, Brexit and the Wimbledon finals

OMG. It’s that time of the year again, when Team Phadke moves into Antagonism Extremis.  As the loyal blog reader must know by now, we, the Phadkes, have never quite taken to the Amicable Extremis family model of the Smriti Irani prototype TV shows. We hate each others’ guts, and we’re superbly candid and proud about it. Even Lil One does not quite like his parents. Even when he was in third grade and all the ickle ones wrote reams and reams of stuff on “What I like about my mom”, Lil One had sat in school with a puzzled expression on his face, really not sure what he quite liked about Mommy dearest. He had finally ventured to write “My mother is funny. She makes faces while telling stories. She looks weird. I think I like her.” I hadn’t quite known whether to fret or be proud of the boy.

Well, so, to come back to the point, we don’t normally see eye to eye on most things, me n Hubby. But our usual arguments (which are fairly Ouch!) seem almost….sweet in comparison, when June arrives. Why? Because, June is TENNIS! The French Open followed by Winbledon, back to back. It’s enough to send our household into a complete, no-holds barred war scenario.

About a decade ago, when the Roger Federer – Rafael Nadal rivalry was at its peak, the June season at our place used to spark some of the worst marital issues ever. Even worse than who’ll do the dishes at night. Even worse than who didn’t fill the icecube tray after last use (That, single handedly is the cause of 73% of the famed Phadke arguments. BTW, it’s always Hubby. Though he’ll never agree to it. I am now thinking of putting in a mini camera in my ice-cube tray just to prove him wrong. Hehehe.) Even worse than who’ll clean the toilets. And that’s saying something. Sigh!

What with me supporting Nadal and Hubby dearest supporting Federer, emotions used to run sky high. French Open and the clay courts would normally bring out the best form in Nadal and the best scowl in Hubby. Oh God, after Nadal won the French Open final against Federer in 2007, Hubby had sulked and sulked and didn’t speak to me till Federer beat him back in the Wimbledon season. That I didn’t speak to him for an entire 2 month period post-Wimbledon is just a logical extension of the argument. Hubby is quite fond of that particular memory and gets this glassy eyed expression whenever he thinks of those two blissful months with me not shrieking at him.

This year’s been no different. “Nadal not playing French Open due to injury!” Hubby piped up suddenly, over morning tea whilst reading the news. “Tch. Tch. Tch. The poor man’s getting old. He should retire.” That came in a gleeful, teasing tone.  He spent most of the day passing idiotic comments on me and singing, “Mujhe buddhaa mil gayaa” and generally making me mad. Heehee. The next day Federer crashed out due to injury. I now joined in the singing fairly enthusiastically. By day end, we were getting on each other’s nerves and had a mother of a fight that evening. Even with both of them NOT playing, we again stopped talking to each other. AAAAAARRRRGH!!!!

Wimbledon was to start on the 27th June; in the meanwhile the Brexit referendum was held on the 23rd. The leave lobby won by a very slight margin; it was 52% voting for leave as compared to 48% voting to remain. I wasn’t amused. “I really don’t understand what they are going to gain by exiting.”I was talking to one of my colleagues on phone. “45% of UK exports are vis-a-vis Europe. How can one expect to create that kind of an export share with some other country? They are worried about the Syrians coming in and taking their jobs. But frankly, if Brexit happens, there won’t be too many jobs around in the first place for anyone to come in and grab. Brexit is so not a good idea!”

I have been reading up by the ton on Brexit analysis that is coming through and the more I look at the issue, I get a feeling that this is going to be one major setback for the EU in general, and UK in particular. Colossally bigger in scale and management than Greece was. The Grexit was about a fiscally indisciplined, small problem-child wanting to exit the family. UK has a fairly big presence in the EU and will create multiple issues upon exit. There’ll be something of a case that EU will want to make out of it and will make it painful for UK to exit, just so that others do not entertain similar fanciful ideas. The pain will obviously come in through squeezed out market access, high tariff and non-tariff barriers against UK, lower accessibility to capital flows etc. UK, which will be at the receiving end of the cold shoulder, does not have an immediate ally such as the US to help them tide over the crisis. Hmmm, Brexit is going to be fairly painful for UK.

“Mom! Are you coming here?” yelled Lil One from the living room. “The semi-final is just starting! Raonic vs. Federer!” OMG. Of course. I hurried into the living room. The tension was palpable. Hubby and Lil One turned blue, green and a delicate shade of yellow as Raonic unleashed those aces on Roger Federer. It was sad. Federer lost the semis and the final would now be between Raonic and Murray.

“I hope Murray beats him 6-0. 6-0, 6-0.” That was Hubby, brooding with a dark gaze on the dinner table. This is interesting. Hubby has never quite supported Murray, whereas I am well, not too fond of him, but I like his game.

“Gosh! Does that mean we ALL support the same player in the finals?” Lil One was quite impressed by the uniqueness of this situation. The poor boy has never quite seen his parents support the same player during tennis season. I wonder if he’ll be able to handle this spirit of bonhomie during Wimbledon finals.

“Yes, Lil One,” said Hubby winking at Lil One wickedly. “I so totally agree with Mom. Brexit is such a bad idea!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who will be the new Governor? On a different wicket!

Dear Reader,

Hi! Well, here’s a wicked twist to an otherwise serious Rexit saga! This piece appeared under my column “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line. You may want to read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/tweakonomics-on-a-different-wicket/article8760727.ece; else read it here directly. Enjoy!


The hunt for the one

BCCI. The hunt for the next Indian coach is on. A special panel will be interviewing potential candidates telephonically.

It is interview day, not only at the BCCI, but also at the RBI. The PMO has asked some economists to telephonically outline their plans to a special panel. As fate would have it, the lines overlap.

Sachin: Yes?

Urjit Patel: Good morning, Sir. This is Patel.

Tendulkar covers the mouthpiece and tells the others confusedly, “Its Parthiv Patel! I didn’t even know he had applied!”

Tendulkar: Hey! The safest hands in Gujarat!

Urjit Patel (blushing, thinking that its the PM at the other end): Arre, no, Sir! That is an accolade that suits you, Sir! I am just the guy who keeps the movement inside the target. That’s my philosophy for success. Benchmark correctly and then, just keep the inflation rate in target zone. Nothing can then stop us, Sir!

Tendulkar (hangs up, to the others): Excellent! Patel’s plan is to keep the other team from getting inflated scores. Wants to focus more on creating a better bowling line up. Nice!

The phone rings again. It’s Arvind Subramanian.

AS: Hi there! This is Arvind!

VVS (totally confused, to the others): What is happening? Where are the senior players? I can’t believe Sreenath Aravind is applying as coach!

VVS: Ummm, hi, Aravind! Well, we never thought you’d be interested in this profile!

AS: I think I am ready for it. Dabbling with developmental issues helped me to write India’s Turn: Understanding the Economic Transformation in 2008. In my current position, I have managed to put in some new thoughts into the policy. JAM is a case in point and it will revolutionalise our delivery mechanism! And my present profile puts me on the same wicket as you, Sir! I understand how the Government works. This insight will be greatly useful if I were to move on the other side! By 2019, I think I can really make India ready for her turn in the globe!

VVS (hangs up, in awe): Did you listen to that slip of a boy, gentlemen? He talks about India’s turn in the 2019 World Cup! But how will JAM improve the delivery?

Tendulkar: Must be some new diet! This boy is good! And did you hear that bit where he hinted that he understands how the Government works? That’s what any coach needs to understand in this country. Impressive!

Phone rings yet again.

Subir Gokarn: Hi, this is Subir.

Ganguly (mistaking him for the Cricket Association of Bengal Joint Secretary Subir Ganguly): Baablu da! Ki holo! I am so happy to know you are a contender for this post! What are your main strategies?

Gokarn (confused at being addressed as Baablu da): Umm, yes, well, the first issue is that India has held her own against a turbulent global change. However, to do this consistently, we have to now focus on infrastructure. That is the second strategy. The third is that food costs have to be addressed. Diversification of diets creates pressures, which the supply side has not been able to manage properly. And the fourth is to look at financial inclusion.

Ganguly (hangs up, impressed): That was something! Has thought of infrastructure, diets as well as better pay for our boys. A true champion indeed!

In the meanwhile, Ravi Shastri makes a presentation to the PMO and gets the job as the Governor. A Rentry to counter the Rexit!