Surplus. What All Could Social Activists Do, But Debate?

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The social surplus is a basic concept of classical political economy which has been revived in the post-war period by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy. They defined it as

.. the difference between what a society produces and the costs of producing it. The size of a surplus is an index of productivity and wealth, and of how much freedom a society has to accomplish whatever goals it may set for itself. The composition of the surplus shows how it uses that freedom: how much it invests in expanding its productive capacity, how much it consumes in various forms, how much it wastes and in what ways.

The surplus can be calculated in alternative ways. One is to estimate the necessary costs of producing the national product, and to deduct the costs from the national product. This raises the conceptual problem of calculating the necessary costs of production. Some of the outlays recorded as costs by firms (such as outlays for superficial product differentiation and advertising) may be unnecessary from the social viewpoint. Hence the determination of the necessary costs is crucial for this first method. A second method is to estimate the various expenditures absorbing the surplus (non-essential consumption, investment etc.) and to add them up.

The re-elaboration of the surplus concept in the post-war period is connected to the evolution of certain features of capitalism. In Monopoly Capital Baran and Sweezy argued that capitalism had made a transition from a competitive phase to a monopolistic phase in the twentieth century. In their view, the concentration of capital in giant corporations enables them to fix prices, in contrast to nineteenth century capitalists who worked under more intense competition. These giant corporations set their sales prices by adding mark-ups to production costs. Such price setting gives the corporations control over the partition of the value added with their workers. Corporations also strive to increase their profits by reducing their production costs. On the macroeconomic plane, the general endeavour to reduce production costs (inclusive of labor costs) tends to raise the share of the surplus in GDP. This rising surplus can be sustained only if it is absorbed. The consumption of capitalists, the consumption of employees in non-productive activities (e.g. superficial product differentiation, advertising, litigation etc.), investment and some part of government expenditure (e.g. public investment, military outlays) are the main outlets for absorbing the surplus.

As almost sixty years have elapsed since the above framework was formulated, it is legitimate to ask: has the increasing ratio of trade to global output impaired the diagnosis of Baran and Sweezy with regard to the monopolization of capital, and with respect to the inclination for the surplus in GDP to increase? Has increasing trade and integration of markets raised competitive pressures so as to restrict the pricing latitude of industrial conglomerates?

The immediate effect of global trade expansion obviously must be to increase overall competition, as greater numbers of firms would come to compete in formerly segregated markets. But a countervailing effect would emerge when large firms with greater financial resources and organizational advantages eliminate smaller firms (as happens when large transnationals take on firms of peripheral countries in opened markets). Another countervailing trend to the competition-enhancing effect of trade expansion is mergers and acquisitions, on which there is evidence in the core countries. A powerful trend increase in the extent of firm level concentration of global markets share could be observed in industries as diverse as aerospace and defence, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, trucks, power equipment, farm equipment, oil and petrochemicals, mining, pulp and paper, brewing, banking, insurance, advertising, and mass media. Indications are that the competition-enhancing effect of trade is balanced (perhaps even overwhelmed) by the monopolizing effect of the centralization of capital, which may sustain the ability of large corporations to control the market prices of their products.

On the other hand, if mergers and acquisitions imply an increase in the average size of the workforce of corporations, this could stimulate a counterbalance to corporate power by higher unionization and worker militancy. However, the increasing mobility of capital, goods and services on the one hand, and unemployment on the other is weakening unionization in the core countries, and making workers accept temporary employment, part-time employment, flexibility in hiring and dismissing, flexible working days and weeks, and flexibility in assigning tasks in the workplace. Increasing flexibility in labor relations shifts various risks related to the product markets and the associated costs from firms onto workers. Enhanced flexibility cannot but boost gross profits. Hence the trend towards increased flexibility in labor practices clearly implies increased surplus generation for given output in individual countries.

The neoliberal global reform agenda also includes measures to increase surplus generation through fiscal and institutional reforms, both in developed and underdeveloped countries. Lowering taxes on corporate profits, capital gains and high incomes; increasing taxes on consumption; raising fees on public services and privatization of these services, of utilities and of social security – all these policies aim at disburdening the high income earners and property owners of contributing to financing essential services for the maintenance of the labor force. These reforms also contribute to increasing the share of surplus in total output.

In brief, in the era of neoliberal policies evidence does not seem to suggest that the tendency for the share of surplus in GDP to rise in individual countries may have waned. If so, what is happening to the surplus generated in international production?

Baran and Sweezy argued that the surplus of underdeveloped countries had been and was being drained away to the centers of the world-system. Their description of core firms‘ overseas activities in Monopoly Capital can be read as a description of offshore outsourcing activities today if one replaces subsidiary with suppliers:

What they [giant multinational corporations] want is monopolistic control over foreign sources of supply and foreign markets, enabling them to buy and sell on specially privileged terms, to shift orders from one subsidiary to another, to favour this country or that depending on which has the most advantageous tax, labour and other policies…

The authors’ view was that imperialism had a two-fold function with respect to the surplus: finding cheap foreign sources of supply (which increases the surplus in the home country), and using other countries‘ markets as outlets (which helps absorb the surplus of the home country). A major motive of transnational companies in their current practice of outsourcing parts of production to underdeveloped countries is to cut production costs, hence to increase gross profits. When the corporation of a core country decides to outsource its production to a peripheral country, or when it shifts its sources of supply of intermediate inputs to a peripheral country, this increases global surplus creation. Global output remains the same, the costs of producing it decline. For the firm, the effect of offshore outsourcing is the same as if it were to reduce its own (in-house) costs of production, or were to outsource to a cheap supplier in the home economy. If the workers in the core country dismissed due to the offshore outsourcing find newly created jobs and continue to produce surplus, then global output increases and surplus creation increases a fortiori. If the workers dismissed due to the outsourcing remain unemployed, then their consumption (provided by family, unemployment benefits etc.) absorbs part of the surplus produced by other workers in employment. Should the supplier in the peripheral country expand her production to meet the order under subcontract, there will also be some increase in surplus creation in the peripheral country. In this case the total increase in surplus may accrue to both countries  economies – in indeterminate proportions.

It is worth noting that the effect of offshore outsourcing on productivity in the core economies is ambiguous. The formula

Productivity = (Sales Revenue – Material Input Cost) / Number of Workers

shows that an increase in material input cost (due to the increase in outsourced inputs) and a reduction of the in-house workforce (due to outsourcing) may ultimately affect the outsourcing firm‘s productivity either way. The gains that motivate firms to outsourcing are not gains in labor productivity (which arguably could legitimize outsourcing from a social viewpoint), but gains in gross profits – i.e. in surplus appropriation.

It emerges that the basic tendencies in the production and growth of the social surplus described by Baran and Sweezy have not changed under globalizing capitalism. New economic policies, corporate strategies and international rules of conduct appear to promote increasing surplus transfers from the periphery to the core of the world-system. In order to lift itself out of destitution the periphery is exhorted to remove restrictions on trade and capital flows, and to compete for advantageous positions in global value chains controlled by transnationals by improving quality, reducing costs, innovating etc. The export-led growth economic strategy compels peripheral producers to individually compete for exportation by repressing wages, and conceding much of the surplus produced to their trade partners in the core countries. Part of the surplus accruing to the periphery is consumed by transnational élites imitating the consumption of the well-to-do in the core societies. On the other hand dollarization, capital flight and official reserve accumulation exert downward pressure (a pressure unrelated to trade balances) on the exchange rate of peripheral currencies. The undervaluation of peripheral currencies, reflected in deteriorating terms of trade, translates into a loss of surplus to the core countries, and reduces the capacity of poor countries to import capital goods from the core. The resulting meager per capita fixed capital formation in the underdeveloped countries bodes grim prospects for the welfare of future generations of working people in the periphery. These trends are maintained by the insertion of millions of workers in Asian hinterlands into global production networks, and by the willingness of peripheral states governed by transnational élites to continue free trade and capital transactions policies, and to accumulate foreign exchange reserves. Africa’s poor populations await their turn to be drawn into the world labor market, to eke out a subsistence and produce a surplus, of which a large part will likely flow to the core.

In order to prevent the drift of the victims of globalizing capitalism to irrational reaction (religious or nationalist fanaticism, clash of civilizations etc.) and to focus their attention on the real issues, social scientists and activists should open to debate the social and economic consequences of the export-led growth idea, all the theories and policies that give precedence to global efficiency over national saving and investment, and the social psychology of consumerism. There is pressing need to promote socio-economic programs based on the principle of self-sufficient and self-reliant national development, wherein the people can decide through democratic procedures how they will dispose the social surplus they produce (how they will distribute it, how much they will save, invest, export) under less pressure from world markets dominated by transnational companies, and with less interefence from international institutions and core states. Within the framework of the capitalist world-system, there is little hope for solving the deep social contradictions the system reproduces. The solution, reason shows, lies outside the logic of the system.

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Sino-India Doklam Standoff, #BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). How the Resolution Could Have Been Reached?

The National Security Adviser of India, Mr. Ajit Doval was posed with a blunt question by China’s state councillor Yang Jiechi when the two met on July 27 to make a settlement over the disputable patch in the Bhutan-owned Doklam stretch. He was asked: Is it  your territory? However, this tough question failed to faze Doval, who, according to reliable sources, had most calmly replied that the stretch of land in question is not China’s territory either – Does every disputed territory become China’s by default? Doval asked in return. This has the potential to read a lot in between and thus without getting awed by the response, deconstructing what transpired is the imperative. This sharp exchange between the two countries was followed by several rounds of negotiations between the two sides in Beijing, with India’s foreign secretary S Jaishankar and India’s ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale trying to reach out to a mutually acceptable solution. These meetings were also sanctioned by the prime ministers of both the countries, especially when they met in Hamburg on the sidelines of G20 meeting on July 7. In fact, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping also agreed to the fact that the negotiations should be held at the NSA level in order to let the dispute not escalate any more. Modi later asked his diplomatic team to reach to a solution at the earliest as this dispute had been the worst in numerous years and the two countries cannot afford to lose each other’s support any more.

This is Doklam, the tri-junction between India, Bhutan and China.

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It was here that India and China were involved in a three-month standoff with the two largest militaries in the world in a eyeball-to-eyeball contact. While, it was in everybody’s interest that the countries do not spark a conflagration, the suspense over this tiny out-of-bounds area had consequences to speculations trajectory. It all started in June this year, when the Indian troops crossed over the disputed territory claimed by both China and Bhutan as its sovereign territory to halt a road construction at Doklam, which could have given China the surveillance and access mechanism over India’s Chicken Neck, the narrow strip that connects the NE Indian states with the mainland. But, other reason for India’s crossing over the boundary lies in a pact with Bhutan where the country would defend any incursions into Bhutan. The standoff was pretty tense with piling up of the war machinery and the troops from either side in a ready-to-combat stature, but still showed extreme presence of mind from getting involved in anything adventurous. China’s blistering state-owned media attacks from instigating to belligerent to carrying out travel advisories on the one hand, and India’s state-purchased media exhibiting peppered nationalism to inflating the 56″ authoritarianism on the other did not really help matters boil down to what was transpiring on the ground. We had pretty much only these two state-owned-purchased behemoths to rely upon and imagine the busting of the myths. But, this week, much to the respite of citizens from either side of the border and the international community at large keenly observing the developments as they were unfolding, the tensions eased, or rather resolved almost dramatically as they had begun in the first place. The dramatic end was at least passed over in silence in the media, but whatever noises were made were trumpeting victories for their respective sides. Even if this were a biased viewpoint, the news reports were quantitative largely and qualitative-ness was generally found at large. The resolution agreed on the the accelerated withdrawal of troops from the site of the standoff.

China still vociferously insists that the territorial dispute in Sikkim was resolved as long ago as in 1890, when Beijing and the British Empire signed the so-called Convention of Calcutta, which defined Sikkim’s borders. As per Article (1) of Convention of 1890, it was agreed that the boundary of Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the waters flowing into the Sikkim Teesta and its affluents, from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet. The line commences at Mount Gipmochi, on the Bhutan frontier, and follows the above-mentioned water-parting to the point where it meets Nepal territory. However, Tibet refused to recognise the validity of Convention of 1890 and further refused to carry into effect the provisions of the said Convention. In 1904, a treaty known as a Convention between Great Britain and Tibet was signed at Lhasa. As per the Convention, Tibet agreed to respect the Convention of 1890 and to recognise the frontier between Sikkim and Tibet, as defined in Article (1) of the said Convention. On April 27, 1906, a treaty was signed between Great Britain and China at Peking, which confirmed the Convention of 1904 between Great Britain and Tibet. The Convention of 1890 was entered by the King of Great Britain on behalf of India before independence and around the time of independence, the Indian Independence (International Arrangement) Order, 1947 was notified by Secretariat of the Governor-General (Reforms) on August 14, 1947. The Order provided, inter alia, that the rights and obligations under all international agreements to which India is a party immediately before the appointed day will devolve upon the Dominion of India. Therefore, in terms of Order of 1947, the government of India is bound by the said Convention of 1890. However, India’s affirmation of the Convention of 1890 was limited to the alignment of the India-China border in Sikkim, based on watershed, and not with respect to any other aspects. However, India-backed Bhutan is convinced that Beijing’s attempt to extend a road to the Doklam area goes against a China-Bhutan agreement on maintaining peace in the region until the dispute is resolved.

The question then is: how could have the tensions that were simmering just short of an accident resolved? Maybe, for the Indians, these were a result of diplomatic procedures followed through the time of tensions, whereas for the Chinese, it was a victory and yet another lesson learnt by the Indians after their debacle in the 1962 conflict. The victory stood its claim because the Chinese maintained that even if the Indians were withdrawing from the plateau, the Chinese would continue patrolling the area. Surprisingly, there isn’t a convincing counterclaim by the Indians making the resolution a tad more concessionary as regards the Indians. It was often thought that amid tensions over the dispute, there had been growing concerns over whether Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would skip the upcoming BRICS summit in China as he did in May when Beijing hosted an international event to celebrate the One Belt One Road Initiative championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Harsh Pant, a professor of International Relations at King’s College, London, and a distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation, said,

If the road is not being built, it’s legal enough for India to pullback, because the boundary dispute is not the problem and has been going on for ages. The real issue was China’s desire to construct a concrete road in this trijunction under dispute. If the Chinese made the concession to not build the road, the whole problem went away.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman said on Tuesday that China would adjust its road building plans in the disputed area taking into account of various factors such as the weather. In his turn, Prime Minister Modi would not have gone ahead with the visit to China if the border dispute remains unresolved, according to the expert. Following the resolution of the border dispute, India’s MEA said that Modi plans to visit Xiamen in China’s Fujian province during September 3-5, 2017 to attend the 9th BRICS Summit. But, the weather angle refused to go, as in the words of Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences,

The weather condition is still the main reason. We all know that heavy snowfall is expected in the Donglang region by late September. The snow will block off the mountain completely, making it impossible to continue road construction. This incident has allowed China to clearly understand potential threat from India. I would call India an ‘incompetent bungler.’ That’s because India always is a spoiler in all the international organizations it becomes a part of. It always takes outrageous and irrational actions. After this incident, China realized that India is not a friendly partner, but a trouble-maker.

The Shanghai-based expert pointed out that the recent standoff has helped China better understand the potential harm India can cause. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Beijing hopes that New Delhi will remember the lessons of latest border confrontation and will avoid such incidents in the future. Despite both China and India agreeing to deescalate the border dispute for the sake of the BRICS summit, the temporary compromise may not last long, as tensions could quickly flare again. In the words of Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research,

The standoff has ended without resolving the dispute over the Doklam plateau. The Indian forces have retreated 500 meters to their ridge-top post at Doka La and can quickly intervene if the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attempts to restart work on the military road – a construction that triggered the face-off. As for China, it has withdrawn its troops and equipment from the face-off site, but strongly asserts the right to send in armed patrols. A fresh crisis could flare if the PLA tries again to build the controversial road to the Indian border.

Hu, the Shanghai-based Chinese professor, asserted that the recent standoff has allowed China to better prepare for future border disputes with India. The Chinese Defense Ministry said that China will maintain a high combat readiness level in the disputed area near the border with India and Bhutan and will decisively protect China’s territorial sovereignty.

So, where does Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) fit in here?

With India and Pakistan as newly installed members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, China is likely to face an increasing amount of divisiveness within a regional economic and security organization accustomed to extreme comity and cooperative discussions. India’s entry could especially frustrate Beijing because of rising geopolitical competition between the Asian giants and different approaches to counterterrorism. Beijing may not have even wanted India to join the SCO. Russia first proposed India as a member, likely in part to complement bilateral economic and security engagement, but mainly to constrain China’s growing influence in the organization. Russia is increasingly concerned that post-Soviet SCO members  –  Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – are drifting too far into China’s geostrategic orbit. Moscow had long delayed implementing Chinese initiatives that would enable Beijing to reap greater benefits from regional trade, including establishing an SCO regional trade agreement and bank. As China gains more clout in Central Asia, Moscow may welcome New Delhi by its side to occasionally strengthen Russia’s hand at slowing or opposing Chinese initiatives. Indeed, during a visit to Moscow, Modi said, “India and Russia have always been together on international issues.”

Going forward, this strategy is likely to pay big dividends. New Delhi has a major hang-up related to the activities of its archrival Pakistan – sponsored by Beijing at the 2015 SCO summit to balance Moscow’s support of India – and continues to be highly critical of China’s so-called “all-weather friendship” with Islamabad. In May, New Delhi refused to send a delegation to Beijing’s widely publicized Belt and Road Initiative summit, which was aimed at increasing trade and infrastructure connectivity between China and Eurasian countries. According to an official Indian statement, the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – was not being “pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Indian opposition stems from the plan to build the corridor through the disputed Kashmir region and to link it to the strategically positioned Pakistani port of Gwadar, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to raise the issue again during his acceptance speech at the SCO summit last month. New Delhi likely will continue to criticize the corridor in the context of the SCO because, as a full member, India has the right to protest developments that do not serve the interests of all SCO members. The SCO also offers another public stage for India to constantly question the intent behind China’s exceptionally close ties to Pakistan.

India-Pakistan tensions occasionally flare up, and Beijing may have to brace for either side to use the SCO as a platform to criticize the other. In the absence of a major incident, Beijing has admirably handled the delicacy of this situation. When asked in early June whether SCO membership would positively impact India-Pakistan relations, China spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “I see the journalist from Pakistan sit[s] right here, while journalists from India sit over there. Maybe someday you can sit closer to each other.” Additionally, the Chinese military’s unofficial mouthpiece, Global Times, published an op-ed suggesting that SCO membership for India and Pakistan would lead to positive bilateral developments. Even if that is overly optimistic, it would set the right tone as the organization forges ahead. But the odds are against China’s desired outcome. Beijing needs to look no farther than South Asia for a cautionary tale. In this region, both India and Pakistan are members of the multilateral grouping known as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. New Delhi, along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan, boycotted last year’s summit in Islamabad because it believed Pakistan was behind a terrorist attack on an Indian army base. Even with an official ban on discussing bilateral issues in its proceedings, SAARC has been perennially hobbled by the intrusion of India-Pakistan grievances. Beijing can probably keep its close friend Islamabad in line at the SCO, but this likely won’t be the case with New Delhi. Another major issue for the SCO to contend with is the security of Afghanistan. An integral component of the organization is the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, aimed at combating China’s “three evils” – terrorism, extremism, and separatism. India, however, is likely to reliably and reasonably highlight the contradiction between China’s stated anti-terrorism goals and the reality of its policy. Most notably, Beijing has consistently looked the other way as Pakistani intelligence services continue to support terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network. Moreover, because India is particularly close to the Afghan government, it could seek to sponsor Afghanistan to move from observer status toward full SCO membership. This would give India even greater strength in the group and could bolster Russia’s position as well.

Lingering border disputes and fierce geostrategic competition in South Asia between China and India is likely to temper any cooperation Beijing might hope to achieve with New Delhi in the SCO. Mutual suspicions in the maritime domain persist as well, with the Indian government recently shoring up its position in the strategically important Andaman and Nicobar island chain to counter the perceived Chinese “string of pearls” strategy – aimed at establishing access to naval ports throughout the Indian Ocean that could be militarily advantageous in a conflict. Such mutual suspicions will likely impact SCO discussions, perhaps in unpredictable ways. Although India may be an unwelcome addition and irritant to Beijing at the SCO, China does not necessarily need the SCO to achieve its regional objectives. From its announcement in 2001, the SCO gave Beijing a productive way to engage neighbors still dominated by Moscow. But today, China’s economic and military strength makes it far more formidable on its own – a point that is only magnified as Russian influence simultaneously recedes, or rather more aptly fluctuates. For instance, even though India rejected Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative overture, China remains India’s top trading partner and a critical market for all Central and South Asian states, leaving them with few other appealing options. India’s entry into the SCO, however, could put Beijing in the awkward position of highlighting the organization’s value, while increasingly working around or outside of it. Outright failure of the SCO would be unacceptable for China because of its central role in establishing the forum. Regardless of the bickering between countries that may break out, Beijing can be expected to make yet another show of the importance of the SCO, with all of the usual pomp and circumstance, at the next summit in June 2018. China as host makes this outcome even more likely.

Taking on the imagination to flight, I am of the opinion that its the banks/financial institutions, more specifically the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the upcoming BRICS Summit that have played majorly into this so-called resolution. India’s move to enter Doklam/Donglang was always brazen as India, along with Pakistan entered the Shanghai Cooperation Organisations (SCO) shortly before India entered Chinese territory. In this sense, India was almost mocking the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation by refusing to utilise the SCO as a proper forum in which to settle such disputes diplomatically. So, even if diplomatically it is a victory for #BRICS, materially it is #China‘s. Whatever, two nuclear-powered states in a stand-off is a cold-threat to….whatever the propaganda machine wants us to believe, the truth is laid bare. This so-called diplomatic victory has yielded a lot of positive, and in the process have snatched the vitality of what economic proponents in the country like to express solemnly of late, growth paradigm, wherein the decision is rested with how accelerated your rate of growth is, and thus proportionally how much of a political clout you can exercise on the international scenario. India’s restraint is not to be taken as how the Indian media projects it in the form of a victory, for that would indeed mean leading the nation blindly at the helm of proto-fascism. This could get scary.

Why Should Modinomics Be Bestowed With An Ignoble Prize In Economics? Demonetization’s Spectacular Failure.

This lesson from history is quite well known:

Muhammad bin Tughlaq thought that may be if he could find an alternative currency, he could save some money. So he replaced the Gold and Silver coins with copper currency. Local goldsmiths started manufacturing these coins and which led to a loss of a huge sum of money to the court. He had to take his orders back and reissue Gold/Silver coins against those copper coins. This counter decision was far more devastating as people exchanged all their fake currency and emptied royal treasure.

And nothing seems to have changed ideatically even after close to 800 years since, when another bold and bald move or rather a balderdash move by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi launched his version of the lunacy. Throw in Demonetization and flush out black money. Well, that was the reason promulgated along with a host of other nationalistic-sounding derivatives like curbing terror funding, expanding the tax net, open to embracing digital economy and making the banking system more foolproof by introducing banking accounts for the millions hitherto devoid of any. But, financial analysts and economists of the left of the political spectrum saw this as brazen porto-fascistic move, when they almost unanimously faulted the government for not really understanding the essence of black money. These voices of sanity were chased off the net, and chided in person and at fora by paid trolls of the ruling dispensation, who incidentally were as clueless about it as about their existence. Though, some other motives of demonetization were smuggled in in feeble voices but weren’t really paid any heed to for they would have sounded the economic disaster even back then. And these are the contraband that could give some credibility to the whole exercise even though it has turned the world’s fastest-growing emerging economy (God knows how it even reached that pinnacle, but, so be it!) into a laughing stock of a democratically-elected dictatorial regime. What is the credibility talked about here? It was all about smashing the informal economy (which until the announcement of November 8 contributed to 40% of the GDP and had a workforce bordering on 90% of the entire economy) to smithereens and sucking it into the formal channel through getting banking accounts formalized. Yes, this is a positive in the most negative sense, and even today the government and whatever voices emanate from Delhi refuse to consider it as a numero uno aim.

Fast forward by 3 (period of trauma) + 8 (periods of post-trauma) months and the cat is out of the bag slapping the government for its hubris. But a spectacular failure it has turned out to be. The government has refused to reveal the details of how much money in banned notes was deposited back with the RBI although 8 months have passed since the window of exchange closed in January this year. Despite repeated questioning in Parliament, Supreme Court and through RTIs, the govt. and RBI has doggedly maintained that old banned notes were still being counted. In June this year, finance minister Arun Jaitley claimed that each note was being checked whether it was counterfeit and that the process would take “a long time”. The whole country had seen through these lies because how can it take 8 months to count the notes. Obviously there was some hanky panky going on. Despite statutory responsibility to release data related to currency in circulation and its accounts, the RBI too was not doing so for this period. They were under instructions to fiddle around and not reveal the truth. Consider the statistics next:

As on November 8, 2016, there were 1716.5 crore piece of Rs. 500 and 685.8 crore pieces of Rs. 1000 circulating the economy totaling Rs. 15.44 lakh crore. The Reserve Bank of India (RESERVE BANK OF INDIA ANNUAL REPORT 2016-17), which for a time as long as Urjit Patel runs the show has been criticized for surrendering the autonomy of the Central Bank to the whims and fancies of PM-run circus finally revealed that 99% of the junked notes (500 + 1000) have returned to the banking system. This revelation has begun to ricochet the corridors of power with severe criticisms of the government’s move to flush out black money and arrest corruption. When the RBI finally gave the figures through its annual report for 2016-17, it disclosed that Rs. 15.28 lakh crore of junked currency had formally entered the banking system through deposits, thus leaving out a difference of a mere (yes, a ‘mere’ in this case) Rs. 16,050 crore unaccounted for money. Following through with more statistics, post-demonetization, the RBI spent Rs. 7,965 crore in 2016-17 on printing new Rs. 500 and Rs. 2000 notes in addition to other denominations, which is more than double the Rs. 3,421 crore spent on printing new notes in the previous year. Demonetization, that was hailed as a step has proved to be complete damp squib as the RBI said that just 7.1 pieces of Rs. 500 per million in circulation and 19.1 pieces of Rs. 1000 per million in circulation were discovered to be fake further implying that if demonetization was also to flush pout counterfeit currency from the system, this hypothesis too failed miserably.

Opposition was quick to seize on the data with the former Finance minister P Chidambaram tweeting:

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He further lamented that with 99% of the currency exchanged, was demonetization a scheme designed to convert black money to white? Naresh Agarwal of Samajwadi Party said his party would move privilege motion against Urjit Patel for misleading a Parliamentary Panel on the issue.

But, what of the immense collateral damage that the exercise caused? And why is the government still so shameless in protecting a lunacy? Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on asserted that any attempt to measure the success of the government’s demonetization exercise on the basis of the amount of money that stayed out of the system was flawed since the confiscation of money had not been the objective. He maintained that the government had met its principal objectives of reducing the reliance on cash in the economy, expanding the tax base and pushing digitisation. Holy Shit! And he along with his comrades is selling and marketing this crap and sadly the majority would even buy into this. Let us hear him out on the official position:

Denying that demonetisation failed to achieve its objectives, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the measure had succeeded in reducing cash in the economy, increasing digitisation, expanding the tax base, checking black money and in moving towards integrating the informal economy with the formal one. “The objective of demonetisation was that India is a high-cash economy and that scenario needs to be altered,” Jaitley told following the release of the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) annual report for the last fiscal giving the figures, for the first time, of demonetised notes returned to the system. The RBI said that of the Rs 15.44 lakh crore of notes taken out of circulation by the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes last November, Rs 15.28 lakh crore, or almost 99 per cent, had returned to the system by way of deposits by the public.”The other objectives of demonetisation were to combat black money and expand the tax base. Post demonetisation, tariff tax base has increased substantially. Personal IT returns have increased by 25 per cent,” the Finance Minister said. “Those dealing in cash currency have now been forced to deposit these in banks, the money has got identified with a particular owner,” he said. “Expanding of the indirect tax base is evident from the results of the GST collections, which shows more and more transactions taking place within the system,” he added. Jaitley said the government has collected Rs 92,283 crore as Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenue for the first month of its roll-out, exceeding the target, while 21.19 lakh taxpayers are yet to file returns. Thus, the July collections target have been met with only 64 per cent of compliance. “The next object of demonetisation is that digitisation must expand, which climaxed during demonetisation and we are trying to sustain that momentum even after remonetisation is completed. Our aim was that the quantum of cash must come down,” Jaitley said. He noted in this regard that RBI reports that the volume of cash transactions had reduced by 17 per cent post-demonetisation. A Finance Ministry reaction to the RBI report said a significant portion of the scrapped notes deposited “could possibly be representing unexplained/black money”. “Accordingly, ‘Operation Clean Money’ was launched on 31st January 2017. Scrutiny of about 18 lakh accounts, prima facie, did not appear to be in line with their tax profile. These were identified and have been approached through email/sms. “Jaitley slammed his predecessor P. Chidambaram for his criticism of the note ban, saying those who had not taken a single step against black money were trying to confuse the objectives of the exercise with the amount of currency that came back into the system. The Finance Ministry said transactions of more than three lakh registered companies are being scrutinised, while one lakh companies have been “struck off the list”. “The government has already identified more than 37,000 shell companies which were engaged in hiding black money and hawala transactions. The Income-tax Directorates of Investigation have identified more than 400 benami transactions up to May 23, 2017, and the market value of properties under attachment is more than Rs 600 crore,” it said. “The integration of the informal with the formal economy was one of the principle objectives of demonetisation,” Jaitley said. He also said that demonetisation had dealt a body blow to terrorist and Maoist financing that was evident from the situation on the ground in Chhattisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir. One thing is for sure: more and more of gobbledygook is to follow.

One of the major offshoots of the demonetisation drive was a push towards a cashless, digital economy. Looking at the chart below, where there is presented the quantum of cashless transactions in some of the major economies of the world…one could only see India’s dismal position. Just about 2% of the volume of economic transactions in India are cashless.

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Less cash would mean less black money…less corruption…and more transparency. Is it? Assuming it is, how far the drive would go on driving? But was India really ready to go digital? There were 5.3 bank branches per one lakh Indians in rural India 15 years ago. On the eve of demonetization, the figure stood at 7.8 bank branches per one lakh Indians. This shows that a majority of rural India has very little access to banks and the organized financial sector. They rely heavily on cash and the informal credit system. Then, we have just 2.2 lakh ATMs in the country. For a population of over 1.2 billion people, that’s a very small number. And guess what? A majority of ATMs are concentrated in metros and cities. For instance, Delhi has more ATMs than the entire state of Rajasthan. Given the poor penetration of banks and formal sector financial services in rural India, Modi’s cashless economy ambitions were always a distant dream. Then there are issues of related to security. Were the banks and other financial institutions technologically competent to tackle the security issues associated with the swift shift towards a digital economy? Can the common man fully trust that his hard earned money in the financial system will be safe from hackers and fraudsters? And the answer does not seem be a comforting one!

“Those dealing in cash currency have now been forced to deposit these in banks, the money has got identified with a particular owner” So surveillance was the reason. Makes sense why they are so desperate to link aadhaar to bank accounts. Some researchers have considered couple of factors which have actually caused demonetization in India. First one includes the refinancing of public sector banks in India. 80% of banks in India are run by government, during the last two decades these banks have been used to lend out loans to corporations which stink of cronyism. These politically-affiliated businesses did not pay back their money which has resulted into the accumulation of huge amount of non-performing assets (NPAs) within these banks. From last three years warning signals were continuously coming about their collapse. Through demonetization millions of poor people have deposited their meagre sums within these banks which have resulted into their refinancing, so that they can now lend the money to the same guys who earlier do not paid back their loans. sounds pretty simplistic, right? Sad, but true, it is this simple. The second factor is the influence of technological and communications companies on the government, as these companies are among the fastest growing ones during the last two decades. Making payments through digital gate ways will be very beneficial for their growth. They can expand their influence over the whole human race. The statements from technological giants like Apple, Microsoft, MasterCard, Facebook, Google etc. clearly shows their intentions behind cashless society. Tim Cook the chief executive of Apple said that “next generation of children will not know what money is” as he promotes “apple pay” as an alternative. MasterCard executives consider apple pay as another step towards cashless society. MasterCard is mining Facebook users data to get consumer behaviour information which it can sell to banks. Bill gates said India will shift to digital payments, as the digital world lets you track things quickly. The acquisition of artificial intelligence companies by Google, Facebook and Microsoft is also on its peak. Over 200 private companies using AI algorithms across different verticals have been acquired since 2012, with over 30 acquisitions taking place in Q1 of 2017 alone. Apple acquired voice recognition firm “Vocal IQ and real face Google has acquired deep learning and neural network, Facebook acquired Masquerade Technologies and Zurich Eye. So what is actually going on, as private corporations and governments are desperate to introduce cashless economy through biometric payment system.

No black money was unearthed by Modi’s historic folly. Terrorism has also not gone down after demonetization and neither has circulation of counterfeit currency. So, it was a failure on all counts, a point that has been predicted by economists worldwide. What the note ban did was cause untold suffering and misery to common people, destroy livelihoods of millions of wage workers, caused bankruptcy to farmers because prices of their produce crashed and disrupted the economic life of the whole country. The only people who benefited from the note bandi were companies that own digital payment systems (like PayTM, MobiKwik etc.) and credit card companies. It also seems now that ultimately, the black money owners have benefited because they managed to convert all their black wealth in to white using proxies.

Why Do Sovereign Borrowers Seek to Avoid Default? A Case of Self-Compliance With Contractual Terms.

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Every form of debt is typically a contractual agreement between a lender and a borrower. The former initially pays a money amount to the latter, the latter promises regular interest payments in the future (ct) for a certain time period (n years) and then return of the whole nominal value of the contract (C). This practically means that the owner of the contract (creditor) acquires a right on a future stream of payments and the contract a present value for the same reason. In a general case, the present value of the contract is given by the following formula (r is the discounting rate):

PV = ∑t=1n ct/(1 + r)t + C/(1 + r)n

Put simply, the equation gives the present value of the liability discounting all future anticipated payments. Default is by definition any ex post change in the stream of current and future payments on the debt contract. This change makes the contract less valuable to the creditor, reducing its present value for non-execution of the agreed payments.

In the case that the borrower is a private firm (or a household), law and related third party enforcers (including but not limited to the courts) guarantee the execution of the contractual terms. If the borrower in the international financial markets is a sovereign state, things are quite different as the third-party enforcement is typically futile. Sovereign borrowers may voluntarily choose to self-comply to the contractual terms; nevertheless, if not, there is no typical third-party enforcement on the international level. Even in the case that the debt contracts are subject to foreign law, the enforcement powers of the foreign courts are limited. The case of Argentina is indicative enough. As it is now well known and widely discussed, the court judgment of Thomas P. Griesa determined that the Argentine government should pay the holdouts pari passu despite the fact that the great majority of creditors had agreed to a restructuring. The decision had its results and triggered a new mini-default, but by no means could typically enforce a policy change to Argentina. In the relevant literature, this is usually called fundamental asymmetry of the sovereign debt market. In the mainstream misleading analytical context (where states, firms, and households are treated as coherent agents acting on a cost/benefit basis and pursuing the optimum position) the key question is the following: why do sovereign borrowers comply with the contractual terms much more often than expected?

Sovereign borrowers avoid default and self-comply with the contractual terms because the strategic benefits from a default do not exceed the anticipated losses. There is truth in this argument. For instance, a sovereign default would heavily affect the domestic financial system, which is usually not only exposed to domestic sovereign debt but would also face serious impediments in its organic connection to the international markets (in the case of a developed capitalist economy, this implies extra financial costs for the private sector and thus serious macroeconomic consequences for employment and growth). One should also take into consideration the economic and political consequences of a default, since negotiations with the creditors take considerable time. The list of cost/benefit analysis can be quite long, but this train of thought misses the crucial factor: the very nature of contemporary capitalist power.

Cost-benefit analysis takes a concrete form only within the contemporary context of capitalist power. International financial markets do not curtail the range of state sovereignty – they reshape the contour of capitalist power. Contemporary capitalism (the term “neoliberalism” is too restrictive to capture all its aspects) amounts to a recomposition or reshaping of the relations between capitalist states (as uneven links in the context of the global imperialist chain), individual capitals (which are constituted as such only in relation to a particular national social capital), and “liberalized” financial markets. This recomposition presupposes a proper reforming of all components involved, in a way that secures the reproduction of the dominant (neoliberal) capitalist paradigm. From this point of view, contemporary capitalism comprises a historical specific form of organization of capitalist power on a social-wide scale, wherein governmentality through financial markets acquires a crucial role. The new condition of governmentality (reproduction of capitalist rule) thus takes the form of a “state-and-market” type of connection. Regardless of the results of cost-benefit calculus, the organic inclusion of the economy in the international markets is a critical premise for the organization of capitalist rule. On the other hand, it is also clear that a recomposition of the relation to international markets (national self-sufficiency) can easily incite the most regressive and authoritarian forms of state governance, if it is not accompanied by a radical shift in the class relations of power.

A Monetary Drain due to Excess Liquidity. Why is the RBI Playing Along

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And so we thought demonetization was not a success. Let me begin with the Socratic irony to assume that it was indeed a success, albeit not in arresting black money for sure. Yes, the tax net has widened and the cruelty of smashing down the informal sector to smithereens to be replaceable with a formal economy, more in the manner of sucking the former into the latter has been achieved. As far as terror funding is concerned, it is anybody’s guess and so let them be with their imaginations. What none can deny is the surge in deposits and liquidity in the wake of demonetization. But, what one has been consciously, or through an ideological-driven standpoint denying is the fact that demonetization clubbed with the governmental red carpet for foreign direct investment has been an utter failure to attract money into the country. And the reason attributed for the same has been a dip in the economy as a result of the idiosyncratic decision of November 8 added with the conjuring acts of mathematics and statistics in tweaking base years to let go off the reality behind a depleting GDP and project the country as the fastest growing emerging economy in the world. The irony I started off with is defeated here, for none of the claims that the government propaganda machine churns out on the assembly line are in fact anywhere near the truth. But, thats what a propaganda is supposed to doing, else why even call it that, or even call for a successful governance and so on and on (sorry for the Žižekian interjections here).

Assuming the irony still has traces and isn’t vanquished, it is time to move on and look into the effects of what calls for a financial reality-check. Abruptly going vertically through the tiers here, it is recently been talked about in the corridors of financial power that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is all set to drain close to 1.5 lakh crore in excess liquidity from the financial system as surging foreign investments forces the central bank to absorb the dollar inflows and sell rupees to cap gains in the local currency. This is really interesting, for the narrative or the discourse is again symptomatic of what the government wants us to believe, and so believe we shall, or shall we? After this brief stopover, chugging off again…Foreign investments into debt and shares have reached a net $31 billion this year, compared with $2.7 billion in sales last year, due to factors including India’s low inflation and improving economic growth. This is not merely a leap, but a leap of faith, in this case numerically. Yes, India is suffering from low inflation, but it ain’t deflation, but rather disinflation. There is a method to this maddening reason, if one needs to counter what gets prime time economic news in the media or passes on as Chinese Whispers amongst activists hell-bent on proving the futility of the governmental narrative. There is nothing wrong in the procedure as long as this hell-bent-ness is cooked in proper proportions of reason. But, why call it disinflation and not deflation? A sharp drop in inflation below the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) 4% target has been driven by only two items – pulses and vegetables. the consumer price index (CPI), excluding pulses and vegetables, rose at the rate of 3.8% in July, much higher than the official headline figure of 2.4% inflation for the month. The re-calculated CPI is based on adjusted weights after excluding pulses and vegetables from the basket of goods and services. The two farm items – pulses and vegetables – have a combined weight of only 8.4% in the consumer price index (CPI) basket. However, they have wielded disproportionate influence over the headline inflation number for more than a year now owing to the sharp volatility in their prices. So, how does it all add up? Prices of pulses and vegetables have fallen significantly this year owing to increased supply amid a normal monsoon last year, as noted by the Economic Survey. The high prices of pulses in the year before and the government’s promises of more effective procurement may have encouraged farmers to produce more last year, resulting in a glut. Demonetisation may have added to farmers’ woes by turning farm markets into buyers’ markets. Thus, there does not seem to be any imminent threat of deflation in India. A more apt characterization of the recent trends in prices may be ‘disinflation’ (a fall in the inflation rate) rather than deflation (falling prices) given that overall inflation, excluding pulses and vegetables, is close to the RBI target of 4%. On the topicality of improving economic growth in the country, this is the bone of contention either weakening or otherwise depending on how the marrow is key up.

Moving on…The strong inflows have sent the rupee up nearly 7 per cent against the dollar and forced the RBI to buy more than $10 billion in spot market and $10 billion in forwards this year – which has meant an equivalent infusion in rupees. Those rupee sales have added liquidity into a financial system already flush with cash after a ban on higher-denomination currency in November sparked a surge in bank deposits. Average daily liquidity has risen to around Rs 3 lakh crore, well above the RBI’s goal of around Rs 1 lakh crore, according to traders. That will force the RBI to step up debt sales to remove liquidity and avoid any inflationary impact. Traders estimate the RBI will need to drain Rs 1 lakh crore to Rs 1.4 lakh crore ($15.7 billion to $22 billion) after taking into account factors such as festival-related consumer spending that naturally reduce cash in the system. How the RBI drains the cash will thus become an impact factor for bond traders, who have benefitted from a rally in debt markets. The RBI has already drained about Rs 1 lakh crore via one-year bills under a special market stabilisation scheme (MSS), as well as Rs 30,000 crore in longer debt through open market sales. MSS (Market Stabilisation Scheme) securities are issued with the objective of providing the RBI with a stock of securities with which it can intervene in the market for managing liquidity. These securities are issued not to meet the government’s expenditure. The MSS scheme was launched in April 2004 to strengthen the RBI’s ability to conduct exchange rate and monetary management. The bills/bonds issued under MSS have all the attributes of the existing treasury bills and dated securities. These securities will be issued by way of auctions to be conducted by the RBI. The timing of issuance, amount and tenure of such securities will be decided by the RBI. The securities issued under the MSS scheme are matched by an equivalent cash balance held by the government with the RBI. As a result, their issuance will have a negligible impact on the fiscal deficit of the government. It is hoped that the procedure would continue, noting staggered sales in bills, combined with daily reverse repo operations and some long-end sales, would be easily absorbable in markets. The most disruptive fashion would be stepping up open market sales, which tend to focus on longer-ended debt. That may send yields higher and blunt the impact of the central bank’s 25 basis point rate cut in August. The RBI does not provide a timetable of its special debt sales for the year. and if the RBI drains the cash largely through MSS bonds then markets wont get too much impacted. This brings us to close in proving the success story of demonetization as a false beacon, in that with a surge in liquidity, the impact on the market would be negligible if MSS are resorted to culminating in establishing the fact that demonetization clubbed with red-carpeted FDI has had absolutely no nexus in the influx of dollars and thus any propaganda of this resulting as a success story of demonetization is to be seen as purely rhetoric. QED.

Welfare Economics, or Social Psychic Wellbeing. Note Quote.

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The economic system is a social system in which commodities are exchanged. Sets of these commodities can be represented by vectors x within a metric space X contained within the non-negative orthant of an Euclidean space RNx+ of dimensionality N equal to the number of such commodities.

An allocation {xi}i∈N ⊂ X ⊂ RNx+ of commodities in society is a set of vectors xi representing the commodities allocated within the economic system to each individual i ∈ N.

In questions of welfare economics at least in all practical policy matters, the state of society is equated with this allocation, that is, s = {xi}i∈N, and the set of all possible information concerning the economic state of society is S = X. It is typically taken to be the case that the individual’s preference-information is simply their allocation xi, si = xi. The concept of Pareto efficiency is thus narrowed to “neoclassical Pareto efficiency” for the school of economic thought in which originates, and to distinguish it from the weaker criterion.

An allocation {xi}i∈N is said to be neoclassical Pareto efficient iff ∄{xi}i∈N ⊂ X & i ∈ N : x′i ≻ xi & x′j ≽ xj ∀ j ≠ i ∈ N.

A movement between two allocations, {xi}i∈N → {x′i}i∈N is called a neoclassical Pareto improvement iff ∃i∈N : x′i ≻ xi & x′j ≽ xj ∀ j ≠ i ∈ N.

For technical reasons it is almost always in practice assumed for simplicity that individual preference relations are monotonically increasing across the space of commodities.

If individual preferences are monotonically increasing then x′ii xi ⇐⇒ x′i ≥ xi, and x′ ≻ xi ⇐⇒ xi > x′i2.

This is problematic, because a normative economics guided by the principle of implementing a decision if it yields a neoclassical Pareto improvement where individuals have such preference relations above leads to the following situation.

Suppose that individual’s preference-information is their own allocation of commodities, and that their preferences are monotonically increasing. Take one individual j ∈ N and an initial allocation {xi}i∈N.

– A series of movements between allocations {{xi}ti∈N → {x′i}ti∈N}Tt=1 such that xi≠j = x′i≠j ∀ t and x′j > xj ∀ t and therefore that xj − xi → ∞∀i≠j ∈ N, are neoclassical Pareto improvements. Furthermore, if these movements are made possible only by the discovery of new commodities, each individual state in the movement is neoclassical Pareto efficient prior to the next discovery if the first allocation was neoclassical Pareto efficient.

Admittedly perhaps not to the economic theorist, but to most this seems a rather dubious out- come. It means that if we are guided by neoclassical Pareto efficiency it is acceptable, indeed de- sirable, that one individual within society be made increasingly “richer” without end and without increasing the wealth of others. Provided only the wealth of others does not decrease. The same result would hold if instead of an individual, we made a whole group, or indeed the whole of society “better off”, without making anyone else “worse off”.

Even the most devoted disciple of Ayn Rand would find this situation dubious, for there is no requirement that the individual in question be in some sense “deserving” of their riches. But it is perfectly logically consistent with Pareto optimality if individual preferences concern only to their allocation and are monotonically increasing. So what is it that is strange here? What generates this odd condonation? It is the narrowing of that which the polity care about to each individual allocation, alone, independent of others. The fact that neoclassical Pareto improvements are distribution-invariant because the polity is supposed to care only about their own individual allocation xi ∈ {xi}ti∈N alone rather than broader states of society si ⊂ s as they see it.

To avoid such awkward results, the economist may move from the preference-axiomatic concept of Pareto efficiency to embrace utilitarianism. The policy criterion (actually not immediately representative of Bentham’s surprisingly subtle statement) being the maximisation of some combination W(x) = W {ui(xi)}i∈N of individual utilities ui(xi) over allocations. The “social psychic wellbeing” metric known as the Social Welfare Function.

In theory, the maximisation of W(x) would, given the “right” assumptions on the combination method W (·) (sum, multiplication, maximin etc.) and utilities (concavity, montonocity, independence etc.) fail to condone a distribution of commodities x extreme as that discussed above. By dint of its failure to maximise social welfare W(x). But to obtain this egalitarian sensitivity to the distribution of income, three properties of Social Welfare Functions are introduced. Which prove fatal to the a-politicality of the economist’s policy advice, and introduce presuppositions which must lay naked upon the political passions of the economist, so much more indecently for their hazy concealment under the technicalistic canopy of functional mathematics.

Firstly, it is so famous a result as to be called the “third theorem of welfare economics” that any such function W(·) as has certain “uncontroversially” desirable technical properties will impose upon the polity N the preferences of a dictator i ∈ N within it. The preference of one individual i ∈ N will serve to determine the preference indicated between by society between different states by W(x). In practice, the preferences of the economist, who decides upon the form of W(·) and thus imposes their particular political passions (be they egalitarian or otherwise) upon policy, deeming what is “socially optimal” by the different weightings assigned to individual utilities ui(·) within the polity. But the political presuppositions imported by the economist go deeper in fact than this. Utilitari-anism which allows for inter-personal comparisons of utility in the construction of W(x) requires utility functions be “cardinal” – representing “how much” utility one derives from commodities over and above the bare preference between different sets thereof. Utility is an extremely vague concept, because it was constructed to represent a common hedonistic experiential metric where the very existence of such is uncertain in the first place. In practice, the economist decides upon, extrapolates, assigns to i ∈ N a particular utility function which imports yet further assumptions about how any one individual values their commodity allocation, and thus contributes to social psychic wellbeing.

And finally, utilitarianism not only makes political statements about who in the polity is to be assigned a disimproved situation. It makes statements so outlandish and outrageous to the common sensibility as to have provided the impetus for two of the great systems of philosophy of justice in modernity – those of John Rawls and Amartya Sen. Under almost any combination method W(·), the maximization of W(·) demands allocation to those most able to realize utility from their allocation. It would demand, for instance, redistribution of commodities from sick children to the hedonistic libertine, for the latter can obtain greater “utility” there from. A problem so severe in its political implications it provided the basic impetus for Rawls’ and Sen’s systems. A Theory of Justice is, of course, a direct response to the problematic political content of utilitarianism.

So Pareto optimality stands as the best hope for the economist to make a-political statements about policy, refraining from making statements therein concerning the assignation of dis-improvements in the situation of any individual. Yet if applied to preferences over individual allocations alone it condones some extreme situations of dubious political desirability across the spectrum of political theory and philosophy. But how robust a guide is it when we allow the polity to be concerned with states of society in general? Not only their own individual allocation of commodities. As they must be in the process of public reasoning in every political philosophy from Plato to Popper and beyond.

Consequentialism -X- (Pareto Efficiency) -X- Deontology

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Let us check the Polity to begin with:

1. N is the set of all individuals in society.

And that which their politics concerns – the state of society.

2. S is the set of all possible information contained within society, so that a set s ∈ 2S (2S being the set of all possible subsets of S) contains all extant information about a particular iteration of society and will be called the state of society. S is an arbitrary topological space.

And the means by which individuals make judgements about that which their politics concerns. Their preferences over the information contained within the state of society.

3. Each individual i ∈ N has a complete and transitive preference relation ≽i defined over a set of preference-information Si ⊂ S such that si ≽ s′i can be read “individual i prefers preference information si at least as much as preference-information s′i”.

Any particular set of preference-information si ⊂ Si can be thought of as the state of society as viewed by individual i. The set of preference-information for individual i is a subset of the information contained within a particular iteration of society, so si ⊂ s ⊂ S.

A particular state of society s is a Pareto efficient if there is no other state of society s′ for which one individual strictly prefers their preference-information s′i ⊂ s′ to that particular state si ⊂ s, and the preference-information s′j ⊂ s′ in the other state s′ is at least as preferred by every other individual j ≠ i.

4. A state s ∈ S is said to be Pareto efficient iff ∄ s′ ∈ 2S & i ∈ N : s′i ≻ si & s′j ≽ sj ∀ j ≠ i ∈ N.

To put it crudely, a particular state of society is Pareto efficient if no individual can be made “better off” without making another individual “worse off”. A dynamic concept which mirrors this is the concept of a Pareto improvement – whereby a change in the state of society leaves everyone at least indifferent, and at least one individual in a preferable situation.

5. A movement between two states of society, s → s′ is called a Pareto improvement iff ∃ i ∈ N : s′i ≻ si & s′j ≽ sj ∀ j ≠ i ∈ N .

Note that this does not imply that s′ is a Pareto efficient state, because the same could potentially be said of a movement s′ → s′′. The state s′ is only a Pareto efficient state if we cannot find yet another state for which the movement to that state is a Pareto improvement. The following Theorem, demonstrates this distinction and gives an alternative definition of Pareto efficiency.

Theorem: A state s ∈ 2S is Pareto efficient iff there is no other state s′ for which the movement s → s′ is a Pareto improvement.

If one adheres to a consequentialist political doctrine (such as classical utilitarianism) rather than a deontological doctrine (such as liberalism) in which action is guided by some categorical imperative other than consequentialism, the guide offered by Pareto improvement is the least controversial, and least politically committal criterion to decision-making one can find. Indeed if we restrict political statements to those which concern the assignation of losses, it is a-political. It makes a value judgement only about who ought gain (whosoever stands to).

Unless one holds a strict deontological doctrine in the style, say, of Robert Nozick’s Anarchy state and Utopia (in which the maintenance of individual freedom is the categorical imperative), or John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (in which again individual freedom is the primary categorical imperative and the betterment of the “poorest” the second categorical imperative), it is more difficult to argue against implementing some decision which will cause a change of society which all individuals in society will be at worst indifferent to. Than arguing for some decision rule which will induce a change of society which some individual will find less preferable. To the rationalisitic economist it seems almost petty, certainly irrational to argue against this criterion, like those individuals who demand “fairness” in the famous “dictator” experiment rather than accept someone else becoming “better off”, and themselves no “worse off”.