Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chidambaram Says He Wants To End 5000 years Of Poverty

This was Chidamabaram’s statement in the parliament and at least a couple of magazines - including India Today.

Nations Wealth

A nation’s wealth can be a number of things - intellectual wealth, economic wealth, social and political institutions and structures leading to wealth. But primarily, most look at wealth as a measure of economic wealth. And that is what Chidambaram was referring to and most of us accept. Therefore in this write up we will limit ourselves to the economic debate.

A few things.

Obviously, paper money cannot be a measure of wealth. Probably, the de la Rue family would have been the world’s richest family, if paper money was of value. The Bretton Woods mechanism under which the US dollar was the world’s reserve currency lasted as long as it was the only currency on the gold standard. The US Government broke the Bretton Woods mechanism by printing too many dollars. De Gaulle’s French Government started trading in US dollars for gold. In 1971 President Nixon abandoned the Gold standard. Thereafter the world got the first Oil shock and 10 years of stagflation. This French ‘perfidy’ strained US-French relations for the next 30 years. President Sarkozy is today trying to change that - and he can. The casus belli - the US dollar is no longer an issue. Today the US is the world’s largest debtor nation.

Measure Of A Nation’s Wealth?

How does one measure a nation’s wealth? A reliable method is, of course, gold reserves.

India’s private and governmental reserves of gold are by far the largest in the world. Estimates of total Indian gold reserves vary between 25,000 to 30,000 tons. The next highest is the United States with 14,000 tons of gold - with the US Govt accounting for 8000 tons. For at least the last 50 years, India has been world’s largest consumer of gold. (Pliny lamented 1800 years ago as to how imports from India were draining Rome of gold. In 1960’s, James Bond was sent after an arch villian, Auric Goldfinger, to close down illegal gold export from Britain to India in Goldfinger - the book.)

Secret of Japan’s rise

Year 1542. The Sado gold mines were discovered. In 16th-17th century, Japan became the second largest producer of gold in the world. Rapid rise of Japan after that and the rest of story is known to the world. Korea claims that Japan plundered Korea of hundreds of tons of gold from 1937-1944. Philipines, Indonesia have all raised claims against Japan for war time gold loot. Regardless, one American writer had definitely hit a jackpot - Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold (By Sterling Seagrave, Peggy Seagrave). Ian Fleming is supposed to have based his story on the Yamashita chapter of WW2.

Sounds like a 5000 years of poverty?

The intellectual father of India’s freedom movement was a British MP of Indian origin - Dadabhai Naoroji. His seminal work on the British colonial loot of India cut away the legs of the Raj - and thereafter, the Raj could not stand. Statistical analyses by Angus Maddisson, Groningen University showed India with a world trade share of 25% for much of the 500 years during 1400-1900.

India loss of wealth is a recent phenomenon. This trend of increasing poverty was halted only with Indian independence and subsequent growth of the Indian economy.
India’s rapid economic decline in the first half of the 20th century is what Chidambaram refers to as the 5000 years of poverty.

Lees Mody Pact

October 28th 1933. Much of India’s Hindu rate of growth can be traced back to this date. On that day, the Bombay Mill Owners Association signed the Lees-Mody Pact. This earned all Indian industrialists Nehru’s distrust. The British had succeeded once again in divide-and-rule.

Japan had become the largest buyer of Indian cotton - in spite of imperial preferences. Lancashire was hurting. Duty on Japanese textiles was raised from 31.5% to 75%. Japan stopped buying Indian cotton in retaliation. Cotton prices crashed. Montagu Norman was already wreaking havoc with his economic policies. demand had collapsed. Britain agreed to “help”. Customs duty was lowered for British goods only to 20%. Britain agreed to buy Indian stock piled cotton at lower prices. Indian mills and the Indian farmer paid the price. GD Birla said “They have lost their nerve …”. Churchill made life difficult in Britain as this pact did not deliver.

While the whole country was following a boycott of foreign goods (specially Lancashire goods), 21 businessmen led by Homi Mody (father of Russi Mody, Piloo Mody) agreed to the system of ‘imperial preference’ - which was behind India’s impoverishment. Earlier, Homi Mody had warned Gandhiji against the renewing the swaraj movement. The “money famine” had collapsed demand in India.

Mody had his own political ambitions. After Independence, Nehru did try and make up with Homi Mody later. Homi Mody was included in to India’s Constituent Assembly - even though he had served the British well.

Chidambaram Should Look At …

What Chidambaram should focus on is a monetary mechanism to leverage India’s 25,000 tons of gold to make India a capital rich country. From there India can start on its way to becoming the richest economy of the world - again.

Significantly, Chidambaram needs to answer if the Indian defence system is adequately funded for its task of protecting the world’s largest gold reserves!

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