Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

What money can buy

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By Raghuram Rajan
The opinions expressed are his own

In an interesting recent book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of the Market, the Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel points to the range of things that money can buy in modern societies and gently tries to stoke our outrage at the market’s growing dominance. Is he right that we should be alarmed?

While Sandel worries about the corrupting nature of some monetized transactions (do kids really develop a love of reading if they are bribed to read books?), he is also concerned about unequal access to money, which makes trades using money inherently unequal. More generally, he fears that the expansion of anonymous monetary exchange erodes social cohesion, and argues for reducing money’s role in society.

Sandel’s concerns are not entirely new, but his examples are worth reflecting upon. In the United States, some companies pay the unemployed to stand in line for free public tickets to congressional hearings. They then sell the tickets to lobbyists and corporate lawyers who have a business interest in the hearing but are too busy to stand in line.

Clearly, public hearings are an important element of participatory democracy. All citizens should have equal access. So selling access seems to be a perversion of democratic principles.

Overseas cues to drive the market but limited upside

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A positive week for the markets saw volatility in a narrow band with Nifty gaining about 115 points to close at 5216, a gain of about 2.25 pct. The midcaps and small caps outperformed the frontline stocks indicating retail interest.

FIIs continued with their buying spree lapping up about US$ 535 million worth of stocks. The new finance minister  Palaniappan Chidambaram was given a thumbs up but expectations of any radical move are low especially after the disappointment from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the last fortnight.

Why the RBI preferred an SLR cut

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The first quarter review of monetary policy did not create any ripples. The stock market remained flat and investors and consumers showed little interest. That was because RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao had made enough noise earlier that the time was not right and conditions were not suitable for a rate cut.

Not so easy for India to come out of the dark

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

Many words have been used to describe the power outages that put half of India in the dark this week: embarrassing, catastrophic, the worst the world has seen. While all of these may be true, the blackout also embodied the dire situation the country could be headed to without the necessary reforms to modernise its economic infrastructure. To be sure, it is not a lack of vision that would lead India to similar potential disasters in the future, but a lack of political will.

Selling insurance through kirana stores

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

India is considered to be a large untapped market for insurance products. There seems to be enough scope for improvement on the insurance density and insurance penetration counts for the country. While this is true, the challenge lies in reaching out to the large population in the rural areas where the traditional financial distribution channels just don’t make economic sense.

Hopes fade as investors await concrete action

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

It was an action-packed week for the markets but not for the reasons we had anticipated. Manmohan Singh’s government, which was expected to announce a string of policy action steps starting with a diesel price hike, failed to make any announcements which would have cheered markets.

Consequences of an export squeeze

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

In June, exports shrank more than five percent to $25 billion largely due to recessionary conditions in major importing countries such as the U.S. and the EU. Although exports are not as critical to us as they are to Singapore or China, they do count for a lot.

Opting for lean and mean armies

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The British army is being cut to size, or perhaps, being stripped to its bones. The British defence secretary has announced a 20 percent cut, reducing its strength to 82,000 combatants by the end of the decade.

Get set for an action-packed week

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

Markets continued to display weakness during the week except for a spirited, though limited, rally on July 18 after the UPA convinced belligerent ally Mamata Banerjee to fall in line for the presidential elections. The Nifty lost 0.4 pct to close the week at 5205 on political worries after the NCP, another government ally, expressed dissatisfaction with its functioning.

The growth versus inflation dilemma

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The RBI is concerned about inflation; the finance ministry has growth as its priority. That, as RBI Governor D. Subbarao mentioned, makes the two almost look like adversaries.

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