Monday, December 7, 2009

Is small scale more desirable than large scale ?

Why is the Government of India so fixated about small scale ? For some reason, the thinking seems to be that small scale is ethically more acceptable than large scale. This is nonsense – both economically and morally.

I am reacting to the news that the government is considering stipulating that public sector enterprises would be required to source 20% of their purchases from micro, small and medium enterprises. Never mind that such public enterprises have to compete on the open market against enterprises with no such restrictions. Never mind that public enterprises, funded with taxpayers money are supposed to be economic engines – not means of implementing a warped sense of social justice.

Small enterprises need no special support. Just as in every other facet of industry, there are the good and bad among them. The good don’t need any handouts. The bad deserve to die. In some areas, scale is an advantage and small scale, by definition is suboptimal. As a consumer, I have no desire to accept suboptimal costs. In some other areas smallness can be an advantage. Good , then compete on your strengths and may the best man win.

Small scale industry is not a saint. They violate laws too. Often laws relating to safety and labour are least observed in small industry. They do not deserve to be glorified.

The problem is that there is a ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises in the central government. If there is a ministry, there must be netas and babus. They have to find something to do to justify their existence. They therefore create such horrible policy. Without a doubt, detailed rules will be laid down as to what materials have to be sourced from them. PSUs will lobby saying some materials have to be excluded because they are not manufactured by the small scale industry. Small industry will lobby saying that some items have to be exclusively sourced from them. Before you know it, a 1000 page compendium will be published. Case law will be created. The babus can be in bliss.

Reminds me of an incident which P Chidambaram, the current Home Minister of India used to speak about. When he first took over the Commerce Ministry, long ago, he discovered the existence of an organization called the Controller of Imports and Exports. While he could understand why imports were thought to be controlled in the license permit era, he was completely at a loss as to why there was a Controller of Exports. When he asked the worthy official why this was so, he was treated to a lengthy presentation of why that function was absolutely important. The gobsmacked Chidambaram realized that the only way he could make things happen was to simply abolish the whole function.

I suggest that the Ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises be likewise abolished.