THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 27 June 2020 Getting out of the ‘guns, germs and steel’ crisis(The Hindu)

Getting out of the ‘guns, germs and steel’ crisis(The Hindu)

Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Kargil
Mains level: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment


  • India faces a “guns, germs and steel” crisis. 
  • There are Chinese “guns” on the borders. There are coronavirus “germs” in our bodies. There are “steel” makers and other businesses on the verge of bankruptcy.
  • Arguably, this is the gravest confluence of military, health and economic crises threatening our nation in more than a generation. 
  • Each of these would qualify as an independent, large crisis by itself, warranting a specific resolution. 
  • The Chinese military threat calls for immediate and strategic action by our defence and foreign affairs establishments. 
  • The COVID-19 health epidemic is here to stay and needs constant monitoring by the Health Ministry and local administration. 
  • The economic collapse is an enormous challenge that needs to be overcome with prudentpolicy.

 Standoff and Kargil Parallel:

  • The common thread across these is that its resolution requires significant financial resources. 
  • Standing up to a military threat by a superpower neighbour will pose an inevitable drain on the finances of the government.
  • India’s war against Pakistan in Kargil in May 1999 provides hints of the financial burden of a military threat. 
  • India’s defence expenditure in the war year shot up by nearly 20% from the previous year. 
  • It also forced the then government to increase India’s defence budget for the next financial year to 2.7% of nominal GDP, the highest in decades.
  • China is a far mightier power than Pakistan. A portion of India’s land in Ladakh has been grabbed by China. 
  • Surely, India is bound to assert its rights, which will necessitate higher expenditure. 
  • India’s defence budget has been whittled down to just 2% of GDP for the financial year 2021. China’s defence budget is nearly four times larger. 
  • In all likelihood, the Chinese conflict will stretch central government finances by an additional 1-2% points of GDP, as India staves off the current threat and shores up its defence preparedness. 

Healthcare and Economy:

  • The health pandemic has exposed India’s woefullyinadequate health infrastructure. 
  • The combined public health expenditure of States and the central government in India is a mere 1.5% of GDP, compared to China’s at 3% and America’s at 9%. 
  • Many public health experts are of the opinion that the central government will need additional funds of the equivalent of at least 1% of GDP to continue the fight against COVID-19.
  • There is no option other than to significantly ramp up India’s health expenditure. 
  • India’s economy has four major drivers — people’s spending on consumption, government spending, investment and external trade. 
  • Spending by people is the largest contributor to India’s economic growth every year. 
  • The lockdown shut off people from spending for two full months, which will contract India’s economy for the first time in nearly five decades.
  • Now, with the global economy in tatters, trade is not a viable alternative to offset the loss from consumption. 
  • Investment is also not a viable option at this stage since the demand for goods and services has fallen dramatically.

Incremental funds needed:

  • The only options then are to either put money in the hands of the needy to stimulate immediate consumption or for the government to embark on a massive spending spree.
  • Based on estimates of loss of consumption, incomes and its multiplier impact, government will need to inject incremental funds of 5% of GDP.
  • Thus, India’s “guns, germs and steel” crisis will impose a total financial burden of an additional eight percentage points of GDP on the central government exchequer. 
  • Where will the government get such a large sum of money from?
  • The government had expected a nominal GDP growth of 10% this year. It is clear now that GDP will not grow but shrink. 
  • Central government revenues for this year were budgeted at 10% of GDP which will not be achieved. Revenues will likely fall short by two percentage points of GDP.
  • In sum, the government needs to spend an additional 8% of GDP while revenues will be lower by 2% of GDP, a combined gap of 10% of GDP. 
  • Potential new sources of revenue such as a wealth tax or a large capital gains tax are ideas worth exploring for the medium term but will not be of much immediate help.
  •  The Junk Rating risk:
  • The only option for the government to finance its needs is to borrow, which will obviously push up debt to ominouslevels. 
  • When government debt rises dramatically, there will be a fourth dimension to the “guns, germs and steel crisis”; a “junk” crisis. 
  • With rising debt levels, international ratings agencies will likely downgrade India’s investment rating to “junk”, which will then trigger panic among foreign investors. 
  • India thus faces a tough “Dasharatha” dilemma — save the country’s borders, citizens and economy or prevent a “junk” rating. 
  • Printing money:
  • Some economists argue that there is a magical third choice – to simply print how much ever money the government needs to overcome these crises. 
  • Economic theory states that if money is printed at will, it can lead to a massive spike in prices and inflation. 
  • This theory has fallen flat in the past decade in developed nations such as America where the creation of phantom money has not led to inflation. 
  • Hence, the Reserve Bank of India can just create money at will and transfer them to government coffers electronically, is the argument.

Key issues:

  • There are multiple problems with this argument. Printing will still be counted as government debt and not escape a potential downgrade to a “junk” rating.
  • The U.S dollar, by virtue of being the world’s reserve currency, has an in-built protection against a currency crisis that can be triggered by at-will printing of money, that other developing nations such as India do not possess. 
  • If there were indeed no costs to printing money whenever governments need, then why tax citizens at all? 
  • Countries could just print money for all their expenses every year. 


  • The magical third choice i.e. for the government to finance, it needs to borrow. 
  • It can give the Indian government the money it needs and, also prevent a ratings downgrade.
  • The nation is at the precipice of an extremely challenging moment in her history. 
  • How India emerges from this crisis will shape not just India’s destiny but the world’s. 
  • The government’s choices are either to be bold and embark on a rescue mission, or do nothing and hope the situation resolves itself. 
  • On balance, it seems that the best course of action is to borrow unabashedly to pull India out of the “guns, germs and steel” crisis and deal with the consequences of a potential “junk” nation label.


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Prelims Questions:

Q.1)With reference to the International Day of the Celebration of the Solstice, consider the following statements:
1. International Day of the Celebration of the Solstice was observed on June 21.
2. A solstice is an event that occurs when the Sun reaches its most northerly or southerly day-arc relative to the equator. 

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

Mains Questions:

Q.1) To what extent the incremental funds are required to boosting our economy. Comment.