April 16, 2016

Looking for a language - part 1

The Economic Survey is presented by the Ministry of Finance to Parliament every year before the Union Budget. It is a self-assessment on the economic development of the country in the past year and consists of a combination of performance outcomes and policy initiatives. Given that economic training traditionally teaches one of the trade-off between limited resources, it is interesting to see the categorisation and its nomenclature changes over the years.

In the 1950s the categorisation related to production, prices, budgetary and fiscal transactions, monetary trends, and balance of payments. From 1962, agriculture as a chapter is introduced and through the 60s and 70s, more or less these broad categories are stuck to; agriculture, industry, prices, budgetary and fiscal, monetary and credit and balance of payments.

In the 60s, “Foreign Aid” is added to the balance of payments chapter. This changes in 1971 to “Foreign Trade” and in 1987 to the “External Sector.” From 2009 to 2013, this is renamed “International Trade” and in 2014, reverted back to the “External Sector.”

From the 80s onwards, the "Industry" chapter is split into two; Industry and Infrastructure. In 2010, the Infrastructure chapter is renamed "Energy, Infrastructure and Communications." In 2014, these are collapsed back into “Industry, Corporate and Infrastructure Performance.”

From 1987, we have the introduction of “Public Distribution System” related to procuring food grains in the "Prices" chapter. This stays for 13 years and in 2001 is renamed “Price and Food Management.” 6 years later, in 2007, there is a splitting into “Agriculture and Food Management” and “Prices and Monetary Management”. In 2014, it is combined again to “Prices, Agriculture and Food Management.”

From 1992, we have the introduction of the "Social Sector" chapter. Its nomenclature changes thrice; in 2008, to "Human Development, Poverty and Public Programmes" in 2010 to “Human Development, Equity and Environment”  and in 2014-to “Social infrastructure, Employment and Human Development.”

From 1995, there is the introduction of “Capital and Money Markets” which is replaced in 2002 with “Securities Market,” in 2006 to “Capital and Commodity Markets”, in 2007 to "Financial Intermediation and Markets" and finally settles in 2014 to “Monetary Management sand Financial Intermediation.”

From 2010, we see the introduction of a “Services” chapter and in 2012 “Sustainable Development and Climate Change” is also added as a chapter.

How we structure and order our thinking over the years is revealing. On the one hand, these is a neatness and sense of control in being able to categorise the economy into one or the other of these chapters. On the other hand, such frameworks have an ossifying logic of their own. 

It is but obvious that the sum should be greater than all these parts. To really get a grip on the full picture, there has to be a method of articulation that is multi disciplinary and easily understood by people. Peoples policy is after all public policy.