Forty-two days into the nationwide lockdown, the focus of the government rests upon flattening the curve – as it should be. But the simultaneous economic quarantine has managed to bring all sorts of economic activities to a grinding halt. At the most telling fronts, it has taken a hit on the GDP, escalated inflation, surged unemployment and disrupted livelihoods of daily wage laborers who have little to no economic buffer.Continue reading
Covid-19 at its apotheosis has certainly put the world into a dire strait. It has drawn the global society into an acrimonious situation with significant disruption seen on the governance, economy, and personal lives. And, it can be well presumed that the repercussions of the pandemic will be felt around the world in wide spectrum of areas in times to come. The post-traumatic distress is likely to remain vivid among the societies, civil organizations, and governments at least until the rest of the decade. In the meantime, the Covid-19 is likely to dominate the concerns of mass-media and general conversations alike.Continue reading
From the fiscal year 2019/20, the Government of Nepal has imposed a 10% custom duty on import of books. While many Nepalese readers and experts have already termed it as an unacceptable tax on knowledge, there is no doubt that this protectionist policy also comes with many long term consequences that directly affect the local consumers, industry, as well as government.Continue reading
With the permission given to nine private companies to import and sell petroleum product, and thus break the monopoly of the state-owned Nepal Oil Corporation only on July 10 being scrapped on July 21, the Government of Nepal (GoN) has pulled a massive joke on the Nepalese private sector, and consecutively the Nepalese consumers. On a very serious note, this is an ominous level of policy instability and has sent all kinds of negative signals to the foreign investors that have (or had) been thinking about making investments in Nepal.
If nothing else, the recent trade blockade should have taught us a lesson. Nepal was compromised largely in terms of availability of goods and services that the government has monopolised, for example, petroleum products. Another observation here will be that government to government agreements can sometimes compromise the well-being of the citizens. Because India wanted to make a statement, IOC was forced to do as per the interest of the Indian government. And since IOC is the only supplier and NOC is the only importer, Nepalese people had no way out
Had there been private companies involved in the process, they would be guided by a completely different set of interests – profit, for example. Irrespective of the government’s interests and stance, they’d be looking to make as much profit as possible. This means that the movement of goods and services would continue. And in fact, we saw this happen, too. We saw that some private individuals managed to bring in petroleum products through informal channels. This is how more than three-fourths of Kathmandu’s demand was met. It was illegal, but only because the law barred them from getting involved in the process. But people needed fuel and they were willing to pay. Now imagine if private companies were legally allowed to engage in petroleum trade! The impact of such blockade on Nepal, and most importantly, on the lives of Nepalese people could have been much less.
But now, that’s a thing of the past; and we need to focus more on the future; and we have a lot on our plates already. We need to build infrastructures, we need to invest in education, health, agriculture … you name it. And for this, we need capital to invest. And people invest when there is some prospect of return. In order to see this prospect of return, there needs to be policy stability in place. What policy stability does to prospective investors is that it gives them a sense of predictability. Irrespective of the ideologies of the government, when investors can be secure that the policy environment is going to stay stable for a certain period of time, they can at least plan their investments factoring for other constraints within that time frame and work out possible returns. But when policies change in a matter of days, investors will not bother doing all that maths. What’s worse, if you are a poor nation and need to bring in foreign investors to solve your third-world problems, you’re frankly not even going to make it to the list of possible countries in which to make an investment.
Property rights as defined by James D. Gwartney – Florida State University, Richard L. Stroup – Montana State University, Dwight Lee – University of Georgia in the article ‘Importance of Private Property’ involves ensuring three important criteria: 1. the right to exclusive use, 2. legal protection against invaders those who would seek to use or abuse the property without the owner’s permission, and 3. the right to transfer to (that is, exchange with) another. If the owner is barred from exercising any one all of these aspects, it is the violation of the property rights.
The state has the primary responsibility of warranting all these criteria to the citizens and thus, protecting their property rights. However, what if the one that is supposed to protect the right of the citizen is itself involved in the violation. Here, the context directly relates to provision in the recently formulated budget of Nepal. In the section related to Land Reform, the budget specifies that all the lands will be classified on the basis of their use and the land classified for the specified purpose shall not be used for other purposes. Additionally, the budget has also provisioned that no agricultural land should be left barren. In case it is left barren, there is the provision of imposing penalty of 25 percent of the potential average production of such barren land.
This budget is unswervingly trying to infringe on the property rights of the citizens. After the implementation of the budget, no citizens will have liberty to use their piece of land as according to their preferences. The use of land will be directed by the state itself. This directly bars the citizens from enjoying the very first criterion, the right to exclusive use of the property (land in this case). Furthermore, as the provision limits the use of land, market value of the land will get reduced. For example, if a piece of land can be used for multiple purposes like making residential house, commercial building, cultivation etc., its market price will be high because of high demand from multiple sector. But, if its use is only restricted to, say agriculture, there will be reduction in the demand, which reduces it market price, thus adversely affecting the land owners and their property rights.
As soon as someone hears of something that has happened or is happening that s/he doesn’t like, s/he goes, “The government ought to do something about it!”. Where does this idea that government can solve all of our problems (especially the economic ones) we face, come from?
This characteristic is a remnant of a thought from the past – before modern freedom, constitutional government, representative government, republicanism or federalism. For centuries, there was a doctrine accepted by everyone in this world, that a King, an anointed king, was messenger of the God and he had more wisdom than his citizens. King had supernatural powers and was able to provide and protect his citizens. As recently as the beginning of the nineteenth century, people suffering from certain disease were expected to be cured by the royal touch, by the hand of the king. Doctors were usually better; nevertheless, they had their patients try the touch of the king. Same reasoning can follow as to why a king should overlook other aspects besides the health of his subjects; other aspects like education, food and shelter. The very aspects of life that are best governed by the market interactions rather than decision of some king or benevolent government. One of the relevant examples from the context of Nepal is nationalization of education (both private and public) in 1971. Before 1971, schools were autonomous and functioned in a decentralized fashion.
Today most countries have democratically elected governments and very few monarchs have survived. But has the doctrine of the superiority of supernatural kings with inherited powers that can solve all problems of their subjects disappeared? At present, most of the government bodies consist of elected officials and not an anointed king, but the idea that there is someone wiser and more powerful that could govern and solve all problems of society has not gone away. This is evident from both the wishes of people for government intervention to solve problems, even if markets can provide better solutions, and also the wish of the governing body to try to expand its horizon to solve all problems that societies face by regulating, banning and subsidizing.
This is not to imply that a government does not have any role in the economy. It has very important roles, namely: maintaining law and order, and enforcing property rights so that it can create space for markets to function. Apart from its limited but very important roles, other actions like regulating prices, wages, rents and profits are beyond the scope of government because it does not lead to the desired result. Prices, wages, rents and profits are best determined by the market forces (demand and supply) and any attempt by government to regulate or control distorts the market and leads to unintended consequences like formation of cartels, shortage of goods and services, to name a few. This is also very evident in current crisis of fuel (apart from the Unofficial Blockade) that stems from the government being the sole provider of petroleum based fuel instead of allowing markets to work it out.
Why is it that government actions to intervene and regulate any aspects of the market, even if it arises with the best of intentions, like the minimum wage so a poor can make more money, rent control so a poor can afford a decent living space, price control on gasoline, milk, eggs and other basic goods so that an average earner can afford, banning of alcohol so that people will not be addicted to alcohol etc. do not lead to the intended outcome and only lead to negative unintended consequences instead? It is because in the centrally planned economy, everything depends on the talents, and gifts and perception of very few people that hold the decision-making power. That which the kings/dictators or governing committees do not know is never taken into account in the planning and decision-making and hence always the negative unintended consequences. Even if all the information that is required for sound policy-making is available to the king/dictators or government committees, their plan will never match the invisible hand of the market and the result of millions of interactions of households and businesses driven by self-interest and incentive.
Inspired by readings of Ludwig von Mises