Twenty parts to a rescue

The global nature of the present financial crisis has made it difficult for any single country’s policies to get it out of the crisis.

Written by Ila Patnaik | Published:March 14, 2009 10:24 pm

The global nature of the present financial crisis has made it difficult for any single country’s policies to get it out of the crisis. In a situation in which a crisis hits a single country it only has to make sure that its own finance and banking are well regulated. It does not need to worry that poor regulation in another country is going to put its own financial system at risk. The complexity that has arisen out of the globalised financial system has made it difficult for a single country’s policies to be effective.

First,there are issues that need to be addressed in the immediate future to prevent the world economy slipping into a deeper recession. These range from solving the problem of bad assets on the balance sheets of banks to providing a monetary and fiscal stimulus.

Today,all large financial firms are global. When the US government works to put Citibank on its feet,the beneficiaries of this are all over the world,since Citibank operates practically everywhere. The assets and liabilities of big financial firms are spread all over the world,which complicates the task of understanding and resolving their problems. It also makes it politically difficult for a national government to put taxpayer money into the firm if the beneficiaries are people from other countries. Thus,if it is perceived that putting French money is going to help an East European economy more than the French taxpayer,the French government is likely to end up putting conditions on the bank’s operations to prevent that from happening.

Similarly,while buying up bad US real estate loans from banks all over the world is a good idea,it is unlikely to be done by any single government and needs coordination across nations.

The need for international coordination is not restricted to the banking sector. Today,with the contraction in output and demand,there is a need for government intervention. Yet,when it comes to providing fiscal and monetary stimuli,there is a temptation for a small open economy to free-ride on the heavy lifting being done by other countries. Each country could try a small fiscal stimulus,and hope to benefit from the efforts of its neighbours.

As mentioned above,when countries use taxpayer money there is a danger of protectionism creeping into their policies. As is well understood now,when every country turns protectionist it becomes even more difficult to pull the world out of a recession. One important element of international coordination is to avoid protectionism. Though there is consensus on this issue,a number of countries,including India and the US,have tried to put in place protectionist measures in their stimulus packages.

Apart from the immediate difficulties,there is the longer-term issue of how to prevent such a crisis from occurring again. One element which generated the global financial crisis was excessive reserve accumulation by developing countries,owing to the fears they had after the Asian crisis about the possibility of IMF support in the event of a crisis,or about the strings that came attached with IMF support. Preventing such crises requires modifying the ownership and governance of the IMF.

Equally important,preventing such crises requires modifying the mechanisms of financial regulation and supervision. However,since finance is international in nature,there is a need for coordination among the efforts of various countries in this regard.

The work of coordination has been placed on the G-20,a grouping of the 20 biggest economies.

India is a member and gains a ringside view of what is being done. Unlike more exclusive groups like the G-7 or the UN Security Council,in the G-20 India has ample opportunity to express any concerns it may have. This seat on the table is the payoff which India has obtained by virtue of having high economic growth in the last decade,and this will (in turn) help enhance Indian economic growth in the decades to come.

The next G-20 meeting is due to take place in London on April 2. There are four critical areas of debate which will take place.

First,some countries,notably in the European continent,have spent little money on a fiscal stimulus,even though they have the fiscal capacity to do more. They will be urged to do their fair share.

The G-20 countries are likely to draft declarations on avoiding all forms of protectionism and exchange rate manipulation. However,the practical value of such statements is limited. Many countries are known to announce new protectionist measures right after signing such declarations.

Third,the meeting will discuss IMF reforms. This involves the question of how to augment the resources of the IMF,and urge continental Europe to step aside in terms of influence over the IMF in favour of emerging Asia.

Finally,agreements will be made on the future of financial regulation. Everyone (including the Americans) agrees that the US system,of dozens of uncoordinated financial regulators,is dysfunctional and needs a massive overhaul. The European continent wants the ability to meddle in the regulation of London and New York,and the US and the UK want no such thing. There may be a long way to go on this front. At present there is little consensus on what the final destination is. India has a framework of bans on financial products and innovation because the government perceives them to be risky. While some people may feel that this saved India from being affected very strongly by the global financial crisis,this is not a solution acceptable to anybody else in the G-20. India,therefore,has little to contribute to this discussion.

In summary,the G-20 meetings in London are an important milestone in the process of getting the world economy back on track.

India is flattered at having been invited to the high table. While today India has little in terms of ideas or depth of experience to offer genuinely useful suggestions on these questions,it can be hoped that being part of this process will give India the confidence to be an enthusiastic and active participant in the financial system that emerges from this process.

The writer is senior fellow,National Institute of Public Finance and Policy,Delhi

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