Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Rethinking government ownership

The pendulum is really swinging the other way, isn't it? The present financial crisis has focused minds on regulation, alright, but it is also causing a rethink of sorts on government ownership in the financial sector. At a minimum, people think that, in a crisis, government takeover troubled banks is okay.

Richard Sennett, writing in FT, goes further. He wants government to infuse equity into real sector firms in order to safeguard employment in the western world. He even writes approvingly of the role of public investment in certain sectors in India:

We are entering a period of financial socialism, by which I mean that the government is buying enterprises which cannot survive in the free market – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the $700bn credit bailout in the US, Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley in the UK. Most observers look at such financial socialism as an emergency measure – and a bad thing. To me it is a good thing; indeed, public ownership needs to be extended from the financial sector to the manufacturing and service sectors.The reason for this is that Europe and the US have many industries and service businesses which cannot survive in the global economy....

Regulation, of the kind the financial sector is now experiencing, is largely irrelevant to expanding the number of jobs. The point is not to restrain risky action, but to encourage investment and innovation. That agenda requires money, more money than can be justified by the austere calculus of the market. This extra cash is where public investment comes in.

If this seems too much to swallow, consider India. Much of its construction, information technology and healthcare sectors have been – on a western calculus – over-staffed and inefficient, supported by government grants. Public investment has, however, developed these industries and as they have grown the need for government aid has declined.


Despo said...

Dear TT,
It is good that regulation and oversight aren't bad words anymore, and many who earlier chafed at R & O are re-inventing themselves as I-Always-Believed proponents of these maligned activities, while others are in the process of adjusting their sails.
I don't knoew if you have addressed in your columns the problem of the revolving door between the regulating beaurocracy and the entities- banks, industry etc- that are supposed to be regulated. A large number of our beaurocrats expect to join, after retirement the very entities they are regulating, at fabulous salaries. Many are extremely pally with their wards while in their posts. And there is always a clamour to get top people from the priv. sector into the government. The conflict of interest is obvious.

I once saw Rahul Bajaj calling NK Sigh the then finance secretary, 'Nandu' and other terms of endearment in a TV debate.

Sandeep said...

Despo, see my blog entry today on regulator pay which is being revised.

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