Published May 13-24, 2020
The recent story, “At Stake: 11 crore jobs, 30% of GDP,” in the Indian Express (May 2) leads with:
From a Delhi-based machine-part manufacturing enterprise which can’t pay its 24 workers to a paint-maker in Pune fresh out of insolvency but facing a funds crunch, a start-up which got a Rs 90-lakh order to make masks but is waiting for banks to give credit, to a Ludhiana export unit whose bills haven’t been cleared — no other sector has been pushed so far to the edge by the pandemic and the Covid lockdown as Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
These make up the heart of the larger industrial ecosystem, acting largely as ancillary units for the big enterprises, and employ, across 5 crore units, an estimated 11 crore persons.
At stake are not only these jobs but the future of what makes up 45 per cent of the country’s total manufacturing output, 40 per cent of exports — and almost 30 per cent of the national GDP.
How are MSMEs defined? From the story: “Even as the government is working on a new definition of MSMEs, the present classification for the manufacturing sector designates a micro enterprise as one with investment in plant and machinery not exceeding Rs 25 lakh, small enterprises with investment between Rs 25 lakh-Rs 5 crore and medium enterprises with investment between Rs 5-10 crore. For service sector classification, micro enterprises have investment in plant and machinery not exceeding Rs 10 lakh, between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 2 crore for small enterprises and Rs 2-5 crore for medium enterprises.”
I wrote earlier about the need to Unlock India and India’s Two Futures. 40+ days into the lockdown, Indians are hurting. In our effort to shield 130 crore lives from the virus, we are creating yet another epidemic which will kill many more – from lost jobs, destroyed livelihoods and concomitant starvation. The consequences of Covid will run deep through India (and the world). But India, because of its large poor population, will face even greater hardships. There is a need for bold measures now – before it is too late.
We need to change our frame of reference – we are not looking at an impact of a few months with everything returning to normal after that. There is no return to the world of early 2020. Because what the virus has unleashed is the Third World War.
The right frame of reference to look at the future is to view what we are living through as a War. But this is not just a localised skirmish between two groups or even nations. It is one which has rapidly engulfed much of the world. Few of us have lived through a World War. All we know are the stories which mark the start and end dates. The hardships faced during a World War are not what we have personally experienced. This is about to change.
In his blog post “The Third World War”, Atanu Dey writes:
World Wars are events that are global, cause severe economic damage, and result in very large numbers of deaths. Unlike ordinary wars, which are localized, by definition world wars involve the entire planet and no nation is entirely immune from the death and destruction that follows.
This world war, unlike the previous two in the last century, is not a military war. But like them, it will lead to some economic, social, and political upheavals that could not have been anticipated at the start. The start of world wars can only be identified in hindsight, when the whole world is engulfed in conflict.
Once this pandemic is seen as WW3, several implications follow. First, it is not going to be short-lived. World wars last several years, not a few months. Second, it is an inflection point. The before and after images of the world are radically different. Expect the unexpected. Third, all aspects of the world are affected negatively. The body blow to global health will cause economic disruption at all levels, and in all sectors. The tiny village in a poor nation will suffer, as will the mega region in an advanced industrialized nation.
Fourth, the political effect. Governments, which under normal circumstances gradually ratchet up their economic control, as they do in any war, increase their power and control at breakneck speeds. This is the most pernicious effect of this WW3, and this will cause more death and destruction than the pandemic will end up doing directly.
As Atanu concludes: “We were born after the two world wars of the last century, the last of which ended 75 years ago. People are used to wars around the world but have become accustomed to a world without a world war. We just don’t think it is possible that we will have to suffer a world war, or that global progress will be halted and reversed.”
Once we have a better understanding of what we are living through, we can start imagining the future. Based on that, we can take actions today which can reduce the impact of the worst that can be expected. In every war small or big, it is the poor who bear the brunt. India has lived with poverty for far too long. Till 1947, we could blame the British. After 1947, it has been the actions of successive governments that have created what I have previously called “perpetually planned poverty.”
What do we need to do to make sure the Third World War does not plunge tens of millions of Indians deeper into poverty? What can we do to build a New India from the ravages of the virus? How can we turn our greatest crisis into our biggest opportunity? What will it take to create ‘The Indian Miracle’ – like what China did starting in the 1980s?
In 2018, I had started the Nayi Disha initiative to create a free and prosperous India. While I failed to get traction due to the many mistakes I made as a prosperity and political entrepreneur, the ideas behind Nayi Disha are even more relevant now. This is how I began the Nayi Disha manifesto:
Poverty is not our destiny. India should have been a rich, developed nation by now but it is not. We, the people of India, have the important duty to make India prosperous. Indians are quite capable of creating wealth, as they have demonstrated in every part of the world they have migrated to. The primary reason for the failure to produce wealth in India is incompetent governance, myopic leadership, and bad policies. It is time we — all of us — took up the challenge and changed India’s direction with a new model of governance and politics.
The simple truth is governments do not create prosperity; people do. At best the government provides the enabling environment for people to create wealth; and at worst the government actively prevents the creation of wealth by needlessly handicapping the people through bureaucratic red-tape, corruption and high taxes. The ‘license permit quota control raj’ of Indian governments has doomed India to poverty, just like the British government did before independence.
The improvements in the lives of over 130 crore Indians depend on what we do today. Let us not waste any more time. We must free India from the stranglehold of the government. We have to do what we must do so that we can tell our children, ‘We did everything we could to change India’s direction.’
In India’s 130 crore population there are 130 crore futures waiting to be set free. Who knows how many great scientists, poets, social reformers, inventors and sports champions India has to give to the world — only if they had the opportunity to flourish. That cannot happen if they are trapped in poverty.
I wrote in the manifesto:
The world today is fabulously rich compared to the world of the year 1750 when most of the world was poor. The wealth of the modern world is due to a new set of ideas — known as the Enlightenment — which led to the Industrial Revolution in the Western nations and made them rich. Indians have been kept poor while other countries like Singapore, South Korea and China have put their citizens on the fast-track to prosperity in the recent few decades.
India has lagged significantly behind its Asian peers in creating prosperity for its people. The question we should be asking of our government: Why are we not 10 times richer?
People create wealth when they have the freedom to produce what they are capable of and trade in free markets. But Indian government policies coerce people and deny them economic freedom, thus ensuring poverty. Only those nations which enjoyed the benefits of free trade, and in which individual rights were protected by law became wealthy. If Indians have to become prosperous, India must become free. For India to become free, Indians must demand freedom from government control.
This is Nayi Disha’s objective.
The Third World War will hurt every nation. We can ensure that the work of building the New India starts now. What India needs is a Nayi Disha, which means both a new direction and a new perspective. We cannot easily stem the loss of jobs that is coming because industries are going to be transformed as people’s behaviour changes. Regardless of whether the government intervenes or not, businesses will need to be re-configured. The world of January 2020 is now a distant memory. A new world is coming whether we like it or not. We should be ready for the changed world.
The first step towards creating that New India is what I call Mission 10-20-30 – creating 10 crore new jobs in the next 20 months with a minimum monthly income of Rs 30,000. This way by the end of 2021, in time for India’s 75th anniversary of our Independence, we would have taken giant leaps towards a free and prosperous India.
Mission 10-20-30 is about creating 10 crore new jobs in 20 months with a minimum monthly income of Rs 30,000.
In the near-term, job losses are inevitable. But we can start taking steps now to build the New India from the wreckage of the Third World War unleashed by the virus. Without jobs, there are no incomes. Without incomes, there will be starvation deaths – because no government will have the resources and reach to save every impacted family. That is why we need to think positive. Once we use the frame of reference that this is not a 2-3 months impact event but one which can last 2-3 years, we can act now to create a different future.
There are 7 elements of Mission 10-20-30.
- Start by putting money in people’s hands. As crores of Indians lose their jobs and business struggle, India is facing an unprecedented demand shock. To address this, we need to first put money in people’s hands. This is not about printing money, but giving every Indian family a fair share of the public wealth of the nation. By doing it now, we can kickstart the process of economic rejuvenation. Rs 1 lakh returned to 26 crore families each year for the next 3 years will require one trillion dollars.
- Simultaneously, all bottlenecks for entrepreneurship and manufacturing should be removed. This will need structural reforms at every level. In case there are challenges, special economic zones could be created to accelerate the process of creating new legal frameworks where companies can operate – much like China had done.
- India needs to upgrade its hard and soft infrastructure. A modern nation needs high-speed rail, many more highways, more ports and airports. It also needs better soft infrastructure – rule of law, property rights, contract enforcement. The government needs to commit a trillion dollars over the next few years to building this out.
- Where to get the funds for this? Borrow $2 trillion from abroad.
- How can these funds be repaid? Through a massive programme of public asset monetisation, and the increased production of wealth that will follow.
- Cities must be made independent from the central and state governments – because cities are where the jobs will be created. Urban governance reforms are needed to free India’s cities.
- Finally, taxes need to be streamlined – no tax in India must exceed 10%, so people and companies can keep more of the money that they earn.
Taken together, these 7 elements will work as the foundation for Mission 10-20-30 and kickstart a long boom for Indians and an irreversible march towards prosperity.
I spoke on May 15 at The Nudge Foundation’s Charcha 2020 event in a panel on public wealth organised by the Centre for Civil Society. My talk was entitled “Mission 10-20-30: The Nayi Disha for Prosperity.” It built on the ideas I have outlined on the blog in the past month, and expanded on them.
Here is the video. I start speaking at 1 hour 7 minutes into the video – for 14 minutes (have linked the video to that). This is followed by Rahul Basu’s presentation for 15 minutes, and then Q&A for about 25 minutes.
I started by outlining the crisis we face and the importance of thinking differently:
- We are in the midst of The Third World War. The pandemic started it, and actions by governments are going to worsen it. As happens in a war, we are going to see immense economic destruction and the poor are going to bear the brunt of it.
- India has also been hugely impacted. We are seeing falling incomes, rising job losses and failing enterprises. Migrants who came to the cities in search of betterment of their lives have become internally displaced persons. As a poor nation, India faces immense humanitarian and economic crises.
- At a time like this, it is good to keep in mind Milton Friedman’s quote: “Only a crisis-actual or perceived-produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” What we have to do is to bring forth new ideas that can perhaps persuade the policy-makers to make the right decisions.
- India has a choice between two futures – one in which the government is everything, and the other in which we (the people) choose our own destiny. This is India’s Mao or Deng moment. Mao pushed the Chinese people down the road to serfdom and starved over 40 million of his fellow Chinese. Deng’s policies lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and set them on the path to prosperity. What will India do? Continue with policies which have resulted in “perpetually planned poverty” or change the rules so that we can achieve different outcomes?
The key question to ask is: Why are some nations rich? Poverty is the default condition in the world. A few countries made the right policy choices to create prosperity for their people. When one studies these nations, we find that the common theme has been policies made on the basis of a set of “prosperity principles” which included some or all of:
- Limited Government
- Economic Freedom
- Property Rights
- Free Markets
- Rule of Law
- Free Trade
Contrast these with the choices we made in India over the past 75 years:
- Limited Big Government
- Economic Freedom Command and Control
- Property Rights Limited
- Free Markets Price Manipulation
- Rule of Law Delayed Justice
- Free Trade Protectionism
It is not surprising that Indians have not become rich. The pandemic-caused Third World War will be made worse by government actions unless a very different path is chosen. In 1947, India achieved political freedom, but the new political masters continued with British Raj 2.0. Only the skin colour of the rulers changed. And therefore, the outcomes did not change.
What we need is a new path – Nayi Disha – that charts a new course guided by the prosperity principle I outlined previously. India needs to be set free from the clutches of the government (politicians and bureaucrats).
At times like these, we must remember Daniel Burhnam’s words: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood…Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”
This where Mission 10-20-30 comes in.
Mission 10-20-30 is the one big idea to make Indians free and rich. It envisions 10 crore new jobs in the next 20 months with a monthly income of Rs 30,000+.
The idea is centred around jobs because jobs are going to be our biggest challenge going around. A nation cannot survive on government handouts. Without jobs, there is no production. Without production, there are no incomes. Without incomes, there is no demand. Without demand, there is no production. Without production, there is no growth. The cycle of transformation begins with jobs.
There are two big ideas to get the job creation process underway:
- Return $1 trillion of the people’s wealth to the people. This is the idea of “Dhan Vapasi”. It entails returning Rs 1 lakh to every Indian family (26+ crore) for the next three years. This is not Universal Basic Income – this is Universal Wealth Return. It is not funded by taxes, but my monetising public assets (which we will discuss shortly). Money in the hands of people will undo the demand shock that we are facing. When people spend on their needs, it creates a “demand pull”. This will kickstart the creation of new jobs across the value chain.
- Invest $1 trillion in infrastructure and facilitate the creation of special economic zones. India needs hard infrastructure – roads, high-speed rail, airports, ports. It also needs the soft infrastructure to ensure rule of law – police, courts and judges, contract enforcement, property rights. All of this will create good jobs that will pay well. In addition, India needs to attract global manufacturing to shift to India. One way is to replicate what China did in the 1980s – create special economic zones with new rules. This is the time when we can replace 10 crore Chinese workers with Indian markers – and thus do to China what China did to the world in the 1980s and 1990s.
By focusing on jobs as the central theme, Mission 10-20-30 is what India needs to create its Deng moment.
The obvious question is where does India get this $2 trillion to launch Mission 10-20-30?
India needs to borrow $2 trillion from global financial markets which are flush with funds. There is about $15-20 trillion earning zero or negative interest globally. All India needs to do is to guarantee a positive rate of return and give global investors the confidence that it will meet its obligations in the years and decades to come. The world needs India, and India needs the world.
The question then comes: how will India pay back the money it borrows? The two obvious answers are non-starters – printing money and increasing taxes. Both will have serious consequences and will push India further down the hole. As has been said, today’s fiscal deficits are tomorrow’s taxes. Besides, the borrowings are in dollars.
In effect, we are solving for our credit constraint by borrowing from the world. We are also releasing the credit constraint for the poor when we give them the money. By borrowing now, we can grow the economy, and the poor can grow their wealth. With the increased wealth, we can repay the loans.
What India needs to do is to monetise its surplus public assets – minerals, land and PSUs. This is the key that unlocks the process of wealth creation.
India’s surplus public wealth is estimated at $20 trillion. This comes to 15 lakh crore – 1,50,00,00,00,00,00,000. That is 15 followed by 14 zeros. This is wealth that belongs to the people of India – Rs 50+ lakh for every Indian family.
The repayment of the $2 trillion raised can be guaranteed by the $20 trillion of India’s surplus public wealth.
An example is the public wealth locked up in the 1000+ ‘palaces’ that are occupied by India’s ruling class (politicians and bureaucrats) in Lutyens’ Delhi. The market value of these British-era bungalows is about Rs 5 lakh crore, or about Rs 20,000 for every Indian family. Creating a Prime Minister’s Lutyens’ Delhi Liquidation Relief Yojana would be an excellent first step!
We have discussed jobs and money. What’s also needed is the plumbing that entrepreneurship and wealth creation needs. This is the plumbing that opens the tap of prosperity.
Wealth creation will be driven by entrepreneurs and private enterprise, and not the government. For too long, India’s government has put roadblocks for entrepreneurs. Every one of those bottlenecks must be removed – India’s entrepreneurs need freedom. The constraints need to be put on the government, not the entrepreneurs. The government does not create wealth; entrepreneurs do.
The starting point needs to be real reforms – land, labour, agriculture, education, and so on. There have been many reports and suggestions made on all the structural reforms India needs. This crisis is a great opportunity to dust off all those reports and start implementing the good ideas. A simple rule of thumb is that it must put limits on the government, and free the entrepreneurs. Voluntary exchange between individuals is what drives wealth creation and government officials have no business interfering in the process of wealth creation.
One critical reform needed is in the enforcement of contracts and the efficient resolution of disputes. If there is no respect for the rule of law, then investments will not happen. What India needs is 3-2-1 Justice – all pending cases must be cleared within 3 years, new cases must be resolved within 2 years, and appeals settled in 1 year. Only then will entrepreneurs have the confidence to do what they do best – solve problems and create wealth.
Taxes need to be reduced to ensure more money stays in the hands of people and corporations. India’s taxes are too high. They must be lowered such that no tax (income, corporation or GST) exceeds 10%. Among other benefits will be the reduction in the size of government, which will limit the damage that it can do.
India’s cities need to be freed from the clutches of the Central and State governments. Cities are where wealth creation happens. Cities are where poor people want to migrate in search of opportunities. Over the next 15 to 20 years, 40 crore Indians will leave their villages and move to cities in search of a better future. Swantantra Cities will have directly elected and empowered mayors as the starting point for urban governance reforms.
Finally, there is a need to have clear titles to all property in India. This will allow the poor to unlock the value of their property and also ensure that commerce can flourish without someone laying claim to a property based on some questionable document.
This is the plumbing India needs to put in place for Mission 10-20-30 to succeed.
Mission 10-20-30 is about focusing on a single theme – job creation. It is about making transformational changes to ensure the creation of good jobs in the coming months and beyond. It is about freeing the people of India from the controls put on them by successive governments over the past 70+ years. This is the Sampoorna Swatantra (complete freedom) we need. Done right, Mission 10-20-30 is the Nayi Disha we need to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty in the coming years and put India on an irreversible path to prosperity.
“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future”, wrote JRR Tolkien in his book, “The Lord of the Rings.” For India to embark on Mission 10-20-30, even as we hope for our political leaders to make the right choices, we can use the power of India’s voters to put pressure on the politicians.
Of India’s 90 crore eligible voters, 30 crore are steadfast in their support for one of the existing political parties. But there are 60 crore who are not – there are 30 crore non-voters, and another 30 crore are non-aligned and make up their mind on whom to vote for just days prior to voting.
The impact of the pandemic will also force a change in the way campaigns are done – politics will also become digital. This can level the playing field for independent movements to take up established parties. Unity and pressure from these 60 crore voters can help make Mission 10-20-30 a reality.
India faces many crises. We can continue on the suicidal path or use the pandemic to create a new India, a rebirth. We can choose our existing rulers or change the rules to ensure different outcomes. We can continue with kakistocracy (a government of the least qualified and the most corrupt) or create a genuine democracy where the voice of the people is heard. We can choose to stay on the road to serfdom or get on the path of freedom. We can live in poverty or make prosperity our new destination.
These are the choices we face. We can stay with the old or ring in the new. This is the Nayi Disha we need in India. It is time for an Indian Revolution – which does away with the old ways and creates a new system and future. The crisis that the pandemic has created, the Third World War we have been thrown into, the pain that we are presently enduring – it can lead to a happy ending if we are prepared to change direction.
This will require extraordinary vision and leadership at the highest levels in India’s government. It will also require people to come together and accept the change that we know can transform our future. We know there is no going back to the world that existed just a few months ago. We may not know the new world that lies ahead of us – but if we learn from the successes of other nations, we can start on a new journey.
We did not ask for the pandemic. It is here. We cannot question the why of the pandemic. The only questions we should ask as we contemplate the future are, “If not us, then who? If not now, when?”
The answers we give and the actions we take will determine the India that emerges from the Third World War. Mission 10-20-30 is the one big idea to take us to a future of freedom and prosperity.