Stimulus package should focus on investment growth, resist populism | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Stimulus package should focus on investment growth, resist populism

An aggressive disinvestment policy and the anticipated extra revenue from GST could give the government enough room to spend more. It is the only long-term solution to the problem of slowing growth.

editorials Updated: Sep 21, 2017 16:43 IST
The Reserve Bank of India headquarters in Mumbai.
The Reserve Bank of India headquarters in Mumbai.

The government is shortly expected to announce a package for the economy. There’s need for one: the rate at which the economy grows has been falling for six quarters now. It is understandable that the government, which came to power at least partly because of its predecessor’s mismanagement of the economy, is concerned.

It is important, however, to understand the nature of the problem. Growth has slowed in part because of the impact of one-off shocks such as demonetisation and the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST), but in other part, because of fundamental structural factors. It is entirely possible, as the effect of these one-off events wears off, that there will be at least one GDP number before the end of the year that will surprise everyone pleasantly. It is the structural problems that need to be addressed.

Fortunately for the government, neither inflation, nor the rising current account deficit is as yet a structural problem. The rise in inflation was expected, and the current account deficit is backed by healthy capital flows (although it makes sense to keep an eye on the import of electronics and gold). Nor should the government respond to the growing clamour surrounding fuel prices – the decision to not pass on the benefit of lower international crude prices to consumers helped the government shore up its finances – or demands for an even looser monetary regime. Smart management of the fiscal deficit, and a tight monetary policy by the Reserve Bank of India have resulted in significant macro-economic stability. This has been hard-won and shouldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of populism – at least not entirely so.

The current state of the economy can be summed up simply: since early 2016, investment growth has been falling. And since June 2016, consumption growth has been falling. Private investment is down because of the twin balance sheet problem (debt-laden companies and banks weighed down by bad loans), and while India finally has a framework for dealing with this, a resolution will take time. Consumption demand is down for a variety of reasons, including poor raises and loss of jobs in several sectors.

The government should focus on reviving investment growth through public investment even while resisting the temptation to announce populist sops that temporarily boost consumption. Incentives for exporters would work, though, and provide a quick-fix, although their benefits are likely to be limited. An aggressive disinvestment policy and the anticipated extra revenue from GST could give the government enough room to spend more. Unfortunately, this approach is unlikely to yield immediate benefits, although it remains the only long-term solution to the problem of slowing growth.