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Economic prosperity through free market

This article was originally published by Prience Shrestha on The Himalayan Times in December 11, 2016.

Price system in a free market enables producers to gauge supply and demands of specific products or services in the market and consequently produce those demanded items. In the process, the price system helps the market guarantee an optimal utilization of resources. Following this notion, the idea of encouraging free market while limiting the role of the government in commerce and infrastructural services has remained valid, and has also delivered prosperity in different societies.

The drive towards liberalizing the economy in the 1990s where the private sector took charge of the economy while the government played the role of a facilitator and a monitor sparked impressive economic growth in Nepal in its consecutive years.

However, it should not be taken to mean that Government is a hindrance to prosperity, and therefore deserves to be completely extricated. Instead, Government has a strategic role of framing and enforcing laws and regulations that allow effective functioning of the market in the society. After all, free market relies on rules of just conduct that assures security of certain rights (private property, engaging in free enterprises) and enforcement of contracts for it to prevail and yield prosperity.

‘Strong and limited’ versus ‘weak and unlimited’

Economic prosperity through free market occurs in presence of a strong government that keeps itself to playing the role of a facilitator and only administers justice and provides protection to people lives and properties while allowing the private sector to thrive. On the contrary, unlimited government that participates in all such activities that the private sector could do more efficiently, but is weak in performing its role of enforcing foundational rules of the market is disastrous to economic prosperity.

Renowned economist Tom G. Palmer makes similar assertion as he attempts to range government effectiveness from the lowest scale of “weak and unlimited” to the highest scale of “strong and limited” in his essay called ‘20 Myths of Market’. Interestingly, this continuum offers an opportunity to scale the effectiveness of our own Nepal Government on the very measure of “strength” in enforcing market propelling rules and “limitedness” in keeping itself away from practicing commerce and providing public services and infrastructures – things that can be better taken care of through private sector under clearly laid down regulatory framework.

Weak government

In judging the strength of our Nepal government on this regard, its success in being able to enforce the legislated rules and regulation impartially among all participants of the market is definitely one of the important deciding variables. Given how it has remained exclusively lenient in imposing commercial regulations among large business houses, it only reckons double-standard and weakness from the side of the government in effectively enforcing rules and regulations. The latest running probe against Patanjali Ayurved Group of India regarding its unauthorized investment of more than NRs 150 crore in Nepal without retrieving permission as per our Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Act (FITTA) is definitely a relevant illustration for it. Though this case scenario has especially charged the Indian Herbal FMCG company as guilty for skipping Foreign Investment regulations, the influence of the company and its founders’ strong stature on our government’s enforceability cannot be undermined either.

Besides, similar concern of lack of government enforceability has also been observed in regards to outbound foreign Investment from Nepal. Speaking of it, people that can exercise influence on the government havemanaged to make foreign investment outside of Nepal despite such practice being barred by the law. In no way could a layman have succeeded in practicing Foreign Investment as such.

The idea here is not to favour the capital control intention of our Investment regulation. It is in fact to highlight the partiality in enforcing the laws and regulation on different individuals and institutions based on stature and political connections. Ultimately, this lack of objectivity only pictures the inability of our government to enforce the legislated regulation.

Except for the inability of the government to enforce laws and regulation objectively, dearth in institutional capacity of the government is also known to have hindered strong enforcement of law and justice. While this issue has infected all areas beyond commercial affairs, unfocused diversion of limited institutional capacity of the Government can be mostly found culprit for it.

The unlimited government

In turning towards evaluating the limitedness of our Nepal government, the boundless extension of ever-ballooning budget of the Nepal government is self-explanatory. After all, it is quite clear that the Government has chosen to remain limitless regarding its scope of influence in the economy. Economic Survey Report FY2015/16 published by the Ministry of Finance (MoF), shows clearly that the growth rate of fiscal budget, and the ratio of Government Budget to National GDP are observing rise in approximate average of 19.77% and 28.26% respectively; in other words, Government of Nepal has adopted the principle of unlimited government in terms of its role in the economy.

If we now revisit the aforementioned scales in terms of measuring the government effectiveness, Government of Nepal unfortunately appears to lie close to the ‘weak and unlimited’ category (as against the more favoured ‘strong and limited’). Therefore, it is advisable for the Nepal government to gradually strengthen its role in areas of law enforcement and justice by curtailing its presence in commercial activities. Gradual divestment of State-owned enterprises mostly involved in commerce is one of the many widely favoured measures prescribed on this regard.Such measure allows the Government to concentrate its unnecessarily dispersed institutional resources in fundamental areas (i.e., administration of justice, contract enforcement, protection of lives and properties, and market monitoring) that support Free market and liberalization.

Prience Shrestha

About Prience Shrestha

Prience works in the research department at Samriddhi Foundation. And, he attempts to specialize in the field of Development Economics

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Economics In One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt: Book Review

Henry Hazlitt’s book “Economics in One Lesson” is a rigorous case against the ideals of government interventionism in the market economy. In this book, Hazlitt takes an angle first conceived by Frederic Bastiat, an 18th century French Economist. Bastiat famously quoted, “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else”,  which was to say, the idea that government works for all is as big a lie as sun revolves around the earth. It only sounds nice in fiction and idealism. 

In reality a government while arguing for a case, totally disavows another part of the economy. For example, when a government says it will provide benefits to certain sector like agriculture, because it is “vulnerable” or “important”, what it is actually doing is taxing the productive sector and funnelling the money into a competing sector that might not be as productive. For many years, the Nepalese government has been subsidising the petroleum products through a government monopoly, but has the government ever considered where the subsidy is funded from. It is ultimately funded from the taxpayers’ money, from different sectors of an economy.

The most important argument he makes is on “Broken Window Fallacy”. The idea of “Broken Window” is that when a glass window breaks, the owner has to replace it. This circulates the money to the producer of the glass, the carpenter, the transporter and similarly around a large section of the economy, which stimulates economic activities. Hazlitt argues that this fallacy wrongly assumes that it is the breaking of the glass window that stimulates the economy through increase in circulation of money. Rather, if the glass had never been broken, the money could have been invested in an alternative sector, which would further revitalise the economy. The breaking of the window has merely diverted money into another endeavour which would have been better if avoided. In de-constructing “Broken Window Fallacy”, Hazlitt makes a strong case against Keynesian Economists-economists who follow the economic doctrine professed by John M. Keynes.

In another case, Hazlitt posits that “progressive taxation,” which is identified as all noble, also hurts the economy. When the rich in an economy are taxed higher, the amount they can save and re-invest decreases. Since they have a higher marginal propensity to save and a higher marginal propensity to invest in comparison with poorer individuals, this amount that could have been invested back in an economy is lost. As a result, it hampers the productive capacity of an economy.

The book also furthers its case against minimum wage law which is a popular political agenda, even in Nepal. He argues that “minimum wage” in idealism tries to uplift the living standard of poorer classes in society. However, in reality it actually hurts the poorer classes, because minimum wage increases the cost of production for a producer. The producer then has to lay off the workers to decrease its cost. As such what was seen as a way of helping the poor ultimately hurts them.

Hazlitt furthers criticises many policies that seem noble in political eyes but do not make economic sense. When the policies are not economically viable, no matter how much benevolent they seem, they will decrease the economic dividends a nation derives from a free functioning market. He makes an strong case against protectionism, taxation, subsidising certain industries at the expense of another, etc.

This book is an influential criticism against some of the intriguing fallacies in Political Economy. However, the book lacks somewhere in providing policy measures for certain economic challenges like depression, controlling inflation, or social challenges like distributive justice. This doesn’t necessarily undermine the value of “Economics in One Lesson.” This book does more than merely point to solutions of the economic challenges; it helps us understand the multidimensional phenomenon that “market” is. This book explains, eloquently, how any form of government intervention has counter-productive effects in a market economy, no matter the intentions. Often times, the unintended consequences outweigh the intended benefits.

For a country, where economic development has been sluggish at best, and socialist policies are taken as virtues to development rather than stumbling blocks towards free functioning of an efficient market, this book is a great read.

Sovit Subedi

About Sovit Subedi

Sovit Subedi is a research intern at Samriddhi. He graduated from University of Pune with a Bachelors Degree in Economics. His interests are in entrepreneurship, strategy and development.

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कालाबजारीया कि उद्यमी ?

– अब्यय न्यौपाने, अशेष श्रेष्ठ, दिनेश कार्की

नेपाल अहिले पेट्रोलियम पदार्थको चरम अभावबाट गुज्रिरहेको छ । नेपालको एकमात्र पेट्रोलियम पदार्थको आपूर्तिकर्ता नेपाल आयल निगमले भारतको “अघोषित नाकाबन्दी” तथा मधेश आन्दोलनका कारणले गर्दा बजारको माग अनुसार सोको आपूर्ति गर्न नसकेकाले देशको अर्थतन्त्रलाई ठुलो धक्का पुग्न गएको र आम नेपाली जनताको जीवन दिनानुदिन कष्टकर बन्दै गएको सबैमा अवगत नै छ । यस्तो अवस्थामा सबैले देशको आर्थिक लगायत अन्य सम्पूर्ण क्रियाकलापनै ठप्प हुने अनुमान गरेको भएता पनि निकै अचम्म लाग्दो तरिकाले सारा मानिसहरु आ–आफ्नो दिनचर्यामा लागिपरेका छन्, आफ्नो गन्तव्यमा पुगिरहेका छन् । “त्यसो भए यी प्रयोजनका निमित्त मानिसहरुसँग पेट्रोल र डिजल चाहिँ कहाँबाट आइरहेको छ त?” भनी तपाई–हाम्रो दिमागमा प्रश्न आउनु तसर्थ स्वाभाविक नै हो । यसको जवाफ “कालो बजार”को संज्ञा दिईएको व्यापार र “तस्कर” कहलिएका व्यापारीहरु नै हुन् । त्यसैले पनि उप–प्रधानमन्त्रीले कलोबजारीयाका कारणले गर्दा नै इन्धनको चरम अभाव हुन नपाएको भन्ने खालको वक्तव्य दिनु त्यति आश्चर्यजनक कुरो भएन ।

कानुनी रूपमा हेर्ने हो भने प्रचलित कानुन विपरित व्यापार व्यवसाय गर्नुलाई कालो बजारी भनिन्छ । त्यसो भए कानुनी दायरामा नरही व्यवसाय संचालन गर्नु पर्ने बाध्यताको किन जन्म हुन्छ त ? साधारणतया जब कानुनी दायरा बाहिर रहेर भन्दा भित्र रहेर व्यवसाय गर्दा महँगो र झन्झटिलो हुन जान्छ, तब “कालोबजारी”को जन्म हुन्छ ।

कानुनी बाटो महंगो हुने कारण कानुनी प्रावधानहरु नै हुन् । जस्तै, कुनै पनि नयाँ कम्पनी सुरुवात गर्दा व्यवसयीलाई आफ्नो व्यवसाय दर्ता गर्ने प्रकृयामै धेरै समय र पैसा खर्च लाग्छ र करको महसुल पनि उच्च छ भने उसले सकेसम्म साना व्यवसायहरु दर्ता नै नगरी चलाउन थाल्छ । नेपालमा अनौपचारिक अर्थतन्त्र फस्टाउनुको एक मुख्य कारण पनि यही हो । जब कुनै क्षेत्रमा सरकारी बाधा–अड्चनले गर्दा नयाँ व्यवसयीहरु प्रवेश गर्न सक्दैनन्, त्यहाँ गैर कानुनी रुपमा व्यापार हुने प्रवृत्तिको विकास हुँदै जान्छ । नेपालमा अनौपचारिक रुपमा पेट्रोलियम पदार्थको आपूर्तिको कहानी पनि यही नै हो । एक पटक कानुनी रुपमा एकाधिकार सम्पन्न सरकारी आपूर्तिकर्ता तय गरिसके पछि सोको अप्रभावकारिताका कारण बाजारमा माग बढ्न जाँदा बढ्दो माग र यस सँगै जोडिएर आउने उच्च प्रतिफलको सम्भावना देखेर त्यसको परिपूर्ति गर्न खोज्ने साना पेट्रोलियम आपूर्तिकर्ता स्वभाविक रुपमा नै सबै कालाबजारीया हुनेनै भए ।

कालोबजारबाट उपलब्ध हुन आउने सामानहरुमा मानिसले साधारणतया व्यक्त गर्ने प्रमुख गुनासो भनेको “कालाबजारीयाहरुले उच्च मूल्य लिए।” भन्ने हो र यसको दोष हामी सम्पूर्ण रुपमा कालाबजारीयाहरु माथी नै थोपर्ने गर्छाैं । यद्यपि यसको लुप्त तर मुख्य दोषी कालाबजारीया नभई उद्यमीलाई कालाबजारीया बन्न बाध्य पार्ने एकाधिकारमुखी नियमनहरु नै हुन् । सरकारी संस्थानले एकाधिकार कायम गरेपछि उक्त वस्तुको अन्य सबै आपूर्ति गैरकानुनी हुने भए । यसरी गैरकानुनी भएपछि स्थापित व्यवस्था छलेर व्यापार गर्न व्यापारीले जोखिम उठाउनुपर्ने हुन्छ । उदाहरणको लागि, गैर कानुनी कहलिने कुनै पनि काम गर्दा विद्यमान कानुन बमोजिम सो व्यापारी प्रहरीको फन्दामा पर्न जाने खतरा ठूलो हुन्छ । समाजबाटै पनि उसले ठूलो आलोचना/अपहेलना भोग्न पर्ने जस्ता सम्भावनाहरु हुन्छन् । यी सबैका बावजुद सो व्यवसाय गर्ने हो भने उसलाई कमसेकम यति आमदानी चाहिन्छ जसले उसको कानुनको कारवाहीमा फस्ने, सामाजिक आलोचनाको भागिदार बन्न पर्ने ईत्यादि जोखिम/अवस्थाको क्षतिपूर्ती समेत होस् । तर व्यवसायी नै भएको नाताले उसले यो सारा लागत आफैले कदापि उठाउँदैन । उसले यो लागत अन्ततः वस्तु वा सेवाको खरिदकर्तामा नै स्थानान्तरित गरिरहेको हुन्छ । बैंकहरुले पनि धेरै जोखिम व्यहोर्न पर्ने प्रकृतिका ऋणहरुमा अन्य भन्दा उच्चतम ब्याज दर तोक्ने कारण यस्तै हो । जति धेरै जोखिम, त्यति नै धेरै मूल्य । यो पछिल्लो उदाहरणको फरक यति हो कि बैंकले ऋण दिँदा उसले विद्यमान कानुन मिचिरहेको छैन तर जोखिम धेरै उठाईरहेको छ । यही “रिस्क प्रिमियमले” गर्दा मूल्य उच्च हुने हुन्छ । फर्केर पेट्रोल व्यवसायीको कुरा गर्दै गर्दा यदि नियम कानुन सहज भएको भए यसरी कानुनको दायरा भन्दा बाहिर रहेर व्यवसाय गर्नु पर्ने बाध्यता हुने थिएन र “रिस्क प्रिमियम” पनि जोड्नु पर्ने थिएन ।

अर्को गुनासो भनेको गुणस्तरको सन्दर्भमा हो । गुणस्तरको प्रत्याभूति महत्वपूर्ण विषय हो तर सरकारले मात्रै कुनै पनि कुराको गुणस्तरको प्रत्याभूति दिन सक्छ भन्ने सोच मित्था हो । सरकारी निरीक्षण हुँदाहुदै पनि मिसावटयुक्त इन्धन सरकारी लाइसेन्सप्राप्त पम्पहरुले बेचिरहेको कुरा सर्वविदितै छ । सरकारी निगरानी भन्दा पनि बजार समन्वय मार्फत नै गुणस्तरको निगरानी स्वतः हुन पनि सक्छ । जब इन्धन व्यापार–व्यवसाय प्रतिस्पर्धात्मक हुन्छ, उपभोक्ताहरु मिसावटयुक्त इन्धन बेचबिखन गर्ने ब्यवसयी सँग किन्दैनन् र यस्ता ब्यवसायिहरु क्रमशः पाखा लाग्दै जान्छन् । यसै प्रकृयाबाट जो व्यवसायीहरु उपभोक्तको माग अनुसारको गुणस्तरयुक्त इन्धन आपूर्ती गर्छन्, ती व्यवसायीहरु बजारमा टिक्छन् र बजार स्वस्फूर्त रुपमा चलिरहन्छ । यसरी उपभोक्ता आँफैले गुणस्तर र मूल्यको निगरानी गर्छन् र व्यापारीले माग अनुसारको गुणस्तर उपलब्ध गराउँछन् । तीन चार जना फरक फरक व्यवसायीसँग पेट्राल खरिद गरिसके पछि जसले उच्चतम गुणस्तरको पेट्रोल दिएको थियो उसैकोमा फर्केर उसँग मात्र पेट्रोल खरिद गर्न थाल्नेहरुको उदाहरण पाउनको लागि हामीले आफ्नै साथीभाईहरु भन्दा अन्य व्यक्तिहरुको मा धाई रहने पर्ने आवस्यकता आज छैन ।

यसैगरी हामीले कालोबजारलाई कानुनी रुपमा मात्र नभएर आर्थिक सामाजिक पाटोबाट पनि हेर्न जरुरी हुन्छ । अहिलेको अवस्थामा पेट्रोलियम पदार्थको व्यापारलाई कानुनी रुपमा अवैध भन्न मिले पनि कालोबजारकै माध्यमबाट नागरिक, कलकरखाना लगायत अरु अत्यावश्यक क्षेत्रमा इन्धनको आपूर्ति भएको छ । चिकित्सकहरु समयमै अस्पताल पुगेका छन्, शिक्षकहरु स्कुल-कलेज पुगेका छन् । कालोबजारकै साहयताले धेरै मानिसहरुले आफ्नो कर्तव्य निर्वाह गर्न सफल भएका छन्।

अहिले इन्धन ब्यापारको क्षेत्रमा अवसर देखेरै मानिसहरु यो अवसरबाट फाइदा लिनको लागि यसमा लागिपरेका छन् । यसमा उनीहरुको संलग्नताको कारणले गर्दा समाजलाई नै टेवा पुगेको छ । यस्तो अवस्थामा कालोबजारीको उपमा दिइएको यस आर्थिक गतिविधि अपराध हो कि उद्यमशीलता? नेपाल सरकार र यसको एकाधिकार सम्पन्न संस्थान नेपाल आयल निगमले झन्डै ४ महिना बितिसक्दा पनि इन्धनको सहज आपूर्ति गर्न नसकेको अवस्थामा कालोबजारीयाको उद्यमशिलताले देशमा इन्धनको माग केही हदसम्म पुरा भइरहेको छ । त्यसैले अहिलेको परीस्थितिमा कालोबजारी नियन्त्रणभन्दा यसलाई कालोबजारको घेरामा पस्न बाध्य नपारी कसरी वैधानिक व्यवसायको सीमाभित्र राख्न सकिन्छ भनेर हेर्नु उचित होला । विगत चार महिनाले इन्धन आपूर्ति गर्न सरकारैमात्र सबल छ वा आवश्यक छ भन्ने धारणालाई त गलत साबित नै गरिसक्यो । यस्तो अवस्थामा यस्तो अत्यावश्यक वस्तु आपूर्ति गर्ने आर्थिक गतिविधिलाई गैरकानूनी बनाइराख्नुको कुनै औचित्य छैन । बरु उद्यमशिलतालाई प्रवद्र्धन गर्दै इन्धनको सहज आपूर्ति कसरी गर्न सकिन्छ भन्ने कुरालाई प्राथमिकता दिनुपर्छ । यसका लागि प्रतिबन्धात्मक सरकारी सन्धि तथा नीतिलाई हटाई, इन्धन आपूर्ति खुल्ला भएको घोषणा गरी प्रवेश बाधा हटाएर उदार ढंगले प्रतिस्पर्धात्मक तथा सुरक्षित रुपमा इन्धन व्यापारलाई अगाडी बढाउनुपर्छ । यसो गर्नाले कालोबजारले निम्त्याउने महँगाई तथा मिसावटका समस्या स्वतः सम्बोधन भई सहज आपूर्तिको वातावरण सुनिश्ति गर्न मद्दत पुग्नेछ ।


Dinesh Karki

About Dinesh Karki

Dinesh Karki is an independent researcher. He has Economics degree from Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China.

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Where is the trust in the market?

It is somewhat consolation to us all, that the constitution was eventually ratified and a long political process came to an end. But when it comes to prosperity and growth, the constitution does not have enough ground work for better environment for entrepreneurs. Ultimately, it is not the government that is going to be the engine of economic growth of our country. What government can and should do is to lay out ground rules that encourages innovation and protects entrepreneurs. Government should create an environment that promotes competition by reducing barriers to entry and by preventing the formation of cartels.

This is preamble of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal:

Nepal is an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive, democratic, socialism-oriented, republican, multiethnic state which shall be called Nepal in short

That sentence without the word ‘socialism oriented’ is still perfect to describe new Nepal under the new constitution. Since the word is there, what is its implication now? Is government going to take responsibility of providing goods and services for its citizens, even if the market is perfectly capable of doing so?

The constitution guarantees all sorts of rights for individuals for example: right to health, right to clean environment, right to education, right to employment etc. Among the rights that is provided for individuals, labor right and right of consumers provides interesting insight into how policy makers think of private sectors. Following are some excerpts from the constitution:

Every worker and employee shall have the right to form and join trade unions and to engage in collective bargaining for the protection of their respective interests, as provided in law

Every consumer shall have right to get quality goods and services. Victim of loss incurred from low quality goods or services shall have right to compensation as provided by the law

These clauses have an underlying assumption that business are always looking at every opportunity to take advantage of their consumers and workers. And these clauses also have the assumption that government is the big brother which is going to protect us (consumers and laborers) all. Another assumption in those clauses is that the government is benevolent saint that has public interests at its core. Well it could not be further from the truth. The fact that it took this long for the constitution to be drafted and ratified (it took eight years) proves that legislative bodies, political parties and bureaucrats have their own self-interest namely: securing votes, re-election and securing budget. Public interest is the least of their concern even if they make us believe it is.

It is true that businesses look for every opportunities to maximize profit. It is also true that there can be incidents of business malpractices. The way out of this problem then is to create an environment of competition driven by efficiency and innovation. In an environment of fair competition, the businesses that engage in mal-practices will not survive and will have to exit the market. The government should let the force of market work its magic rather than imposing iron clad regulations on businesses, which can lead to many unintended consequences and are very hard to change even if the regulations are not leading to desired outcomes.

This lack of trust in the role of market and entrepreneurial spirit (core of which is competition, efficiency and innovation) is very tragic for Nepal, a country which is in desperate need of rapid economic growth. Rapid economic growth does not come from regulating the private sectors. And policy makers should be very mindful of this.

Dhruba Bhandari

About Dhruba Bhandari

Dhruba Bhandari is Research Fellow at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation. He joined the Foundation in July 2015. He completed PhD in Development Economics from Oklahoma State University (USA) in 2013. Prior to Joining Foundation, he worked as Research Associate at Oklahoma State University.

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