Monday, July 6, 2009

CHUTZPAH on Behalf of Main Street (sort of)

Once again I seem to find myself with the problem of facing a good Chutzpah of the Week award candidate at the beginning of the week. Admittedly, I may well be under the influence of Saturday's premiere performance of To Big to Fail by the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which I described as "a parable about paying more attention to Main Street than to Wall Street;" but a report by James Lamont for this morning's Financial Times surprised me by covering an opposition between Main Street and Wall Street where I had not considered finding one. Here is the basic story:

The newly elected Indian government on Monday launched a big spending national budget that boosted infrastructure spending and protected farmers, but was deeply unpopular with investors, who hammered Indian stocks.

Fearing the budget would further stretch the fiscal deficit, investors pulled out of shares listed on the Sensex which staged a sharp retreat from early gains, falling as much as 6 per cent to 14,017.37 in afternoon trading.

In other words, under the leadership of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, India plans to go ahead with a recovery plan that pays more attention to the needs of its citizens than to the needs of its financial sector. Standing up to the financial sector in this way requires a strong sense of chutzpah; and given that the market is already pushing back against Mukherjee, I figure he needs all the support he can get. To emphasize the drama of the situation, Lamont even observed that the Sensex dropped 600 points over the period of Mukherjee's address to the Indian Parliament about his plan. Nevertheless, Mukherjee hung in there with one critical sentence:

As we begin this five-year journey, the road ahead will not be easy.

Needless to say, it is not easy to "stay the course" (to revive that old Ronald Regan cliché) of a five-year plan; but, perhaps this is where that matter of patience with the rich and mighty is so important. Recall that the year began with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo receiving a Chutzpah of the Week award (also presented early in the week) for losing patience with the rich and mighty. Mukherjee has chosen a different journey. It took chutzpah to make the choice, and it will take chutzpah to sustain that choice. I give him the Chutzpah of the Week award in the hope that other countries will take note of how he has decided to place the needs of his citizens above those of his country's financiers.

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