The Indian Economy Blog

April 20, 2007

Surely, FT Can Find Better Columnists On India

Anyone who writes about there being “two Indias” is necessarily wrong. Anyone who describes India’s jettisoning of the licence raj in 1991 using words like “neo-liberal” is necessarily confused. And anyone who writes about Indian agriculture quoting P Sainath and no one else is necessarily unbalanced. Rajinder Sahota, writing in the Financial Times (they actually published it) is all three.

As usual, poverty statistics are among the first to be thrown about. As many as 13m of the 18m of the new additions to the world’s ‘hungry’ during 1999-2003, Sahota writes, were Indians. We are left to conclude that this is because of those ‘neo-liberal’ policies that India has adopted. Never mind that the debate in India is no more whether poverty has declined since the early 1990s—it has by any estimate—but over how much. Contrary to what Sahota would have his readers believe, those reforms might actually have resulted in reducing the number of Indians in the world’s hungry (wherever he got that number from).

Sahota claims that by acceding to, well, the ‘neo-liberal narrative’—the developed world’s this time—India has exposed 600m of its citizens to protected competition from the developed world. That’s true in theory, but developed world subsidies are nowhere as responsible for the plight of India’s farmers as India’s inability to prepare them for globalisation: markets, infrastructure and information are all missing.

What comes next is bizarre. Following a ‘neoliberal agenda’ the Indian government “scaled back provision of water, seed and credit, driving farmers to gamble on export crops like genetically modified cotton”. That puts an ideology (neo-liberalism, of course) to the government’s sheer incompetence and neglect of investing in the provision of basic public services. But it does not prove that water, seed and credit would have reached farmers had there been no reforms.

The tale of India’s billionaires, Sahota writes in conclusion, is also the story of her suicides, as if one were responsible for the other. To mix the two is to commit a double offence: first, it demeans the achievements of those who have risen to the top of the economic heap in the face of global competition and often in spite of the government. Second, it distracts attention from the real reasons why the suicides still happen: criticism of theoretical constructs that ignores the actual policies and their implementation, usually by those whose only contribution to the battle against poverty is their propensity to indulge in—and send the government on—wild-goose chases. The title of his article is “A lie that drove 1m poor farmers to kill themselves”.

Related Links: It might be Neelakantan’s fault that we are seeing such articles in print. Amity Shlaes and Baldev Raj Nayyar have taken on the critics recently. EPW featured a paper recently on preliminary results on recent povery and inequality statistics.

21 Comments »

  1. The post seems rather biased and deluded, there is no doubt that there is a direct link between neo-liberal policies and the worsening situation of farmers in certain parts of India. For example the Paper present by Dr. jayati Ghosh ‘Is India a success story of economic liberalisation?’
    http://www.tsbd.org.tr/Ghosh.pdf
    It though does not necessarily imply that these policies are all for the worse, but some of the trade manipulative figures produced in the Financial Times article are pertinent to expalin the situation. It is easier to talk of the plight of the farmers in hot fields of Vidarbha, Maharashtra.
    The point is precisely, what Prof; Stiglitz suggested once, there will definitely be a painful transition while India integrates with the Global Economy, but if definitely can be reduced if the well being of the multitudes of the people is kept always before and above before that of certain individuals.
    Another request, do not be lost in the cold figures each single family loosing a loved one to economic disaster is a failure of the plolicies that are resulting to the same.

    Comment by Farmer — April 20, 2007 @ 6:01 pm

  2. India has the world’s largest pool of trained Leftists, despite many years of economic reform. No other country has so many educated people who are both unable to understand the market and unable to accept the fact that India is developing using the market and reducing the level of poverty.

    It is fine to point to specific shortcomings and problems but the basic trend in India over the last 2 decades is obviously positive, something that really offends those people who reject the market and are determined to see “failures” in everything Indian.

    This is not just an ideological problem or a disease restricted to the FT. There is something in the psyche of a segment of educated Indians that disposes them towards aiming for and rejoicing in failure. They cannot accept the idea that things may be getting better. You do not find such a group of any size in other developing countries, be it China, Vietnam, Brazil, Peru or any other country that is growing these days.

    Unfortunately, this type of “intellectual” usually has a disproportionate influence on foreign journalists and media covering India, for this group is well-educated, speaks English, and appears to be sincerely concerned about poverty. Fortunately, this type of Indian intellectual is failing to re-produce itself these days. The newer generation is much better and has a positive outlook. However, it will take a long time for India’s existing stock of ageing, failure-seeking intellectuals to disappear. So, be prepared for more such stories, even as India becomes a better country.

    Comment by Blue Sky — April 20, 2007 @ 8:20 pm

  3. Keynesianeconomists like Jaythi Ghosh advocate more ‘defict
    spending’ to ‘stimulate’ the economy and are sure that there
    is unutilised capacity in the economy !! God help us and we are
    grateful that such people are not in power anymore. chronic
    inflation due to deficts have driven interest rates to dizzy
    heights in the past. and the poor and marginal farmers are the
    worst hit. and coruption and leakages in all subsidies have
    made us cynical, while any study of cost/benefit analysis is never
    done. even if a trillion dollars are spent on agri, things may
    not improve much as most of it leaks. these leftists ignore such
    practical realities.

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — April 20, 2007 @ 9:31 pm

  4. And interst rates (market/bazar) rates are directly proportional
    to inflation, which is again proportional to deficts.
    36 % interest in norms in informal economy and even higher in
    micro credit of money lenders. But in 1930 Gandhiji was borrowing
    at 5 % rate from banks for Khadi movement. bank rates were so low
    then. it spiraled in the 60s and 70s in the heydays of socialism
    and only in the past decade has the interest rates moderated to
    single digits due to growth and better fiscal dispiline…

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — April 20, 2007 @ 9:35 pm

  5. cotton is planted in many areas of India. why farmer suicides only in
    Vidharba and AP while in many other areas it is not so ?

    local conditions, gambling on borrowed funds (at hefty rates) as
    the state govts promised to buy the stock above market rates,
    plus the availability if free or subsidised power enabled many
    farmers to borrow and sink borewells (and many failed). it is
    a compex situation and chronic inflation rises ‘input’ costs
    of agriculture.

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — April 20, 2007 @ 9:45 pm

  6. [...] 20th, 2007 · No Comments Nitin debunks an article written by Rajinder Sahota in Financial Times The tale of India’sbillionaires, Sahota writes in conclusion, is also the story of her suicides, as if one were responsible for the other. To mix the two is to commit a double offence: first, it demeans the achievements of those who have risen to the top of the economic heap in the face of global competition and often in spite of the government. Second, it distracts attention from the real reasons why the suicides still happen: criticism of theoretical constructs that ignores the actual policies and their implementation, usually by those whose only contribution to the battle against poverty is their propensity to indulge in—and send the government on—wild-goose chases. The title of his article is “A lie that drove 1m poor farmers to kill themselves”. [...]

    Pingback by Debunking Rajinder Sahota « Maya Kannadi — April 21, 2007 @ 1:36 am

  7. The main problem with left intellectualls is they are all preachers and demagoues. They want their ego to be boosted and in a market economy where your worth is based on your value addition is anethma to them. They do not add any value just talk and gloating. The same is also true for rightwing swadeshi brigade, they are as bad if not worse than the left wing economic intellectualls.

    Comment by Muru — April 21, 2007 @ 2:30 am

  8. [...] The Indian Economy Blog points to lopsided opinions in a newspaper. “The tale of India’s billionaires, Sahota writes in conclusion, is also the story of her suicides, as if one were responsible for the other. To mix the two is to commit a double offence: first, it demeans the achievements of those who have risen to the top of the economic heap in the face of global competition and often in spite of the government. Second, it distracts attention from the real reasons why the suicides still happen: criticism of theoretical constructs that ignores the actual policies and their implementation, usually by those whose only contribution to the battle against poverty is their propensity to indulge in—and send the government on—wild-goose chases.” Share This [...]

    Pingback by Global Voices Online » India: They way we write about India — April 21, 2007 @ 2:39 am

  9. Anyone who denies Two Indias is blind or, maybe, even foolish. Anyone who calls people who are sensitive to poverty and discrimination as communists is plain stupid. It is people like you who remind me every now and then that free market fundamentalists are indeed foolish. Live in your world of foolishness. Any amount of whining will not shut down saner people.

    Comment by Krish — April 21, 2007 @ 9:40 am

  10. Krish,

    the road to hell is paved with good intentions, goes a
    proverb. fits socialists well. we all have good intentions
    but there is of course difference of ideas and means.

    sure, there is dire poverty and as the left says allocation
    for agri and welfare as percentage of GDP is less ; but in
    absolute terms they are very high when compared to the past.
    the issue is deliveries and leakages. until they are corrected,
    no use of arguing. and the spiraling defense budget can be
    reduced by making peace with Pak or referring Kashmir issue
    to UN or if needed arrange a referendem in Kashmir. it is
    draining our scarce resources and there is a high price to
    pay which we can ill afford. all this money for defence can
    be diverted to welfare and agriculture. more taxes is not
    tenable and already 33 % income tax is deemed high and hence
    rampant evasion and black money generation..

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — April 21, 2007 @ 10:55 am

  11. Krish,

    Anyone who denies Two Indias is blind or, maybe, even foolish.

    Not quite. I contend that there are over a billion Indias. That is not being blind…rather that is seeing things with much greater resolution.

    Anyone who calls people who are sensitive to poverty and discrimination as communists is plain stupid.

    I’m wondering who these ‘plain stupid’ people are. No one used the word communist in this discussion. Wait a minute…you did!

    Any amount of whining will not shut down saner people.

    Let’s drink to that!

    Comment by Nitin — April 21, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

  12. Just as I was reading this post, came across this interview with Prabhat Patnaik, who claims to be an economist.

    Have taken the liberty of C&P this article since it was only in the print edition of India Abroad (April 13, 2007, page A-40)

    Mr Patnaik is also the Vice – Chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board. Yikes! Poor Kerala — what have they done to deserve this?

    ————————————————————-

    \\\’THE HIGHER THE GROWTH, THE GREATER THE ANTAGONISM\\\’

    Economist Prabhat Patnaik discusses the dark side of India\\\’s economic growth with Senior Editor Suman Guha Mozumder

    India\\\’s economy may be booming, its industries thriving, its middle class heady with the promise of a great future. But Prabhat Patnaik, a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, worries what the changes augur for the rest of the nation. Patnaik was in New York last month to take part in a public conversation on \\\’An Emergent India: Problems and Prospects\\\’ along with Nobel Laureate and Columbia\\\’s economics Professor Joseph Stiglitz. In an interview with INDIA ABROAD after the discussion, Patnaik, who is also vice-chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board, talked about his concerns about modern India.

    Q. There were concerns, especially during the rule of the government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party earlier that while India was shining — a slogan coined by the BJP — it was not shining on all its population. Have things changed under the Manmohan Singh government?

    A.I think they are continuing pretty much the same way. But one of two things that have happened is of some importance. One is the passing of the Employment Guarantee Act, which promises every rural household 100 days of guaranteed employment. It was initially launched only in 200 districts but it\\\’s understood that it will be extended to the whole country.

    A lot of campaigning was done to get this through. This act differs from every other previous employment program as it actually makes it a right [to be employed]. But the only problem with it is the state machinery is so enmeshed in neo-liberalism that I do not think that even though it is rights based — even though it is the case that anybody who demands employment and does not get it can take the government to court — much might happen. The problems of non-implementation are to be found almost everywhere. Poor and unemployed people do not take the government to court. They just cannot. But, at the same time, I think this is something that gives us a handle, at least when public and political organizations take the cause of the poor and fight on their behalf. So it is a very enabling thing to do. The basic directions of neo-liberal policies have not changed, but because of intensive campaigning, this act has been passed, which is of potential significance.

    Q. If the basic policies have not changed and, as you mentioned, poverty is actually increasing in India despite the growth …

    A. I would not even say that poverty is increasing despite the growth. I would say that the kind of growth we are experiencing in India is actually based on an exacerbation of antagonism. As a result it is growth where to expect a trickle-down effect would be absurd. In fact, the higher the growth, the greater the antagonism. Suppose you have higher growth. Then there will be even more demand for, let us say, a Wal-Mart to be opened. Therfore, there will be an even greater dispossession as far as petty and retail traders are concerned.

    So, it is a kind of growth where it is not that higher growth would pull everybody up, but on the contrary higher growth would actually make things worse for a whole lot of people at the bottom.

    Q. Could you elaborate?

    A. When you have higher growth, there is more income at the upper level. Because of the kind of growth, which inequalizes growth any way, there will be more demands, let\\\’s say, for a golf course, or luxury apartments and therefore agricultural land will be taken away and there will be more dispossession of the peasants. So, it is not just that higher growth is associated with greater poverty, but actually this is a kind of growth where it is part of the intrinsic nature of the growth itself.

    Q. So you mean this kind of higher growth would spell out displacemement from traditional occupations like agriculture and, in turn, lead to poverty?

    A. Yes. That is the kind of situation I am talking about.[The result can be] unemployment, dispossession and displacement of petty producers and peasants, and a greater agrarian crisis etc. Suppose you have an even higher growth rate, there will be more people demanding that an airport be constructed. If there are more people demanding such things, investments will go there and not to social sectors or to the rural infrastructure development. So, in that sense, the increasing growth on one side and the increasing poverty on the other side are in fact interlinked.

    Q. So, as they say, the rising tide will not lift all the boats.

    A. Exactly. It\\\’s futile to expect that higher growth will actually have a trickle-down effect. Even now, higher growth has not touched the poor; if we still have even higher growth, it is not going to touch the poor. That is not going to happen.

    Q. Tell me then, how does one go about industrializing a country like India? Obviously, you need to acquire land. Given the resistance against acquisition these days, what is the way out?

    A. The point is, the peasants who are displaced must themselves have an interest in the industry that is being created for them. They should be employed. Also, you need to give them equity. Let them get compensation.

    If you look at the case of Orissa, the tribals were given compensation, but within two years, their land value has gone up 10 times. Now they feel cheated. Therefore, for the foregone capital gain they would have made, you have to give them an equity share. You have to work a whole package, not just make promises, before taking their land, [ensure] they are compensated for the land, compensated for the loss of employment and for the capital gains foregone and share equity.

    Q. Recently, a member of India\\\’s Commerce Ministry\\\’s Parliamentary Consultative Committee said in New York that the government is considering giving them equity and will announce that very soon. Do you think once that is done, the problems relating to land acquisition will be resolved?

    A. My fundamental point is that these issues have to be settled through social consultations and negotiations. These are not issues about which you can just impose [a solution] on the peasants. In other words, legally, it is true that the government has the right to take land [after providing] adequate compensation for building something there for the public good. But here, we are talking about building industry by the private sector, so you cannot use the old principle or the law. It has to be negotiated properly with the peasants. It has to be done on the basis of democratic consultations.

    Gone are the days when you could just tell peasants that you are taking their land and just give them some money in lieu. In a way they [protests] are good. It is a case of assertion by ordinary people, assertion of peoples\\\’ democratic rights and expression of a voice of people who are marginalized.

    I welcome it, in fact, because normally such people would be brushed aside in the name of development. But if somebody stands up and says \\\’sorry, I\\\’m not interested in giving you land,\\\’ then you have to negotiate with him. Now that is basically the assertion of a democratic right.

    Q. Although this is not for a special economic zone, the Left Front government in West Bengal has taken land in Singur apparently with the consent of the farmers. Despite this, one is seeing protests and resistance building up there and elsewhere almost daily. Do you think it is a case of peasants being frustrated by the Left\\\’s turnaround after fighting farmers\\\’ rights and for the equitable distribution of land?

    A. Actually, if you look at the details of the land acquisition, the West Bengal government\\\’s terms were probably better than many other states. In Orissa, I know those who were agitating against land acquisition used to demand the same terms as those of Bengal. There are two problems. One of course, is that many peasants who had given their land to the government for reasonable money, believed at the time of the sale that there was no option. Later, they found out the truth and began harboring second thoughts. The other thing is there is a problem with land acquired in West Bengal. Some of the unrecorded sharecroppers there have to be compensated.

    The West Bengal government arranged for compensation for those who are recorded tenants. But, apparently, there were some unrecorded sharecroppers in the Singur area. This is not official as yet, but the government is going to compensate them as well. This is something being worked out. The issue is not just whether the West Bengal terms are good or bad, the issue is different. What is happening now is that various states in India are engaged in cutthroat competition to attract private investment.

    The logic of capitalism is that capitalists compete against one another. But here, the capitalists have a monopoly and these governments are ruthlessly competing against each other to attract investments.This is absurd and West Bengal is caught in the same trap. I think the states and the [federal government] should get together. I think what is more worrying is that public exchequers are being used by the various state governments to subsidize capitalists.

    Q. I remember you talked about the dwindling social sector expenditure by the government. Do you think the present unrest, incidents like peasants\\\’ suicides, etc. have something to do with the decrease in the social sector expenditure, especially in the farm sector?

    A. Without a doubt. What many people do not understand is that obviously, when the peasants\\\’ prices fall or the costs rise, peasants\\\’ income dwindles and when that happens, if the peasants have access to a whole lot of things like free education, free healthcare, they have some security. They feel that while their income has dwindled, there are other areas from where they can have some security.

    But, simultaneously [along with income decrease], if you find that your social sector expenditure is also dwindling, you have a situation that, when your father falls ill, you are forced to go to a money lender to be able to take him to hospital. At that point of time, you are not thinking about the fall in your income.

    But if you had a proper government-funded medical service, some of these problems would not arise. The peasantry is driven to desperation because of reduced income that has been accompanied by reduced social security. The two together has actually made it impossible, which is why most of them are indebted to money lenders. The health expenditure, in fact, is a very important cause of debt to money lenders.

    Q. Do you find it ironic that, somehow, the decline in social sector expenditure has coincided with the rising growth story of India?

    A. That is quite correct. [Economist] Amartya Sen started this idea of the Kerala model. It was a wonderful case of social sector expenditure, covering all levels of human development, but when that was happening you found that growth was very little. On the other hand, in more recent years, growth has picked up, and social sector expenditure has dwindled. So it is a very clear example of how growth does not really enable you to have larger social sector expenditure. In fact, social sector expenditure requires a degree of commitment by the government.

    Q. It is often felt that, in India there has been over emphasis on tertiary education and under emphasis on primary education. How do you link this to development?

    A. I reject that view. I think it is not a question of one versus the other. In fact, the education sector as a whole has been neglected. Our total expenditure on education as a proportion of GDP is less than what the South African government used to spend on blacks during the apartheid era. So, India\\\’s expenditure on education as a proportion to GDP has been meager. It has to be raised; unfortunately, we had this idea for a long time of raising education expenditure to 6% of GDP, but we have come nowhere near it and are way below it even today.

    How can you run a modern economy without ideas generated? Ideas are generated in universities. I think freedom of a country depends on having independent ideas. You can\\\’t borrow other countries\\\’ ideas and then expect to remain free. That being the case, this idea in some quarters that somehow India is spending too much on education is wrong. In fact, we have to spend more on education, both primary and tertiary.

    Q. But there has been opposition from the Left to the entry of foreign universities in India.

    A. That is right. It services no purpose. You have to strengthen your own universities because this whole business of foreign universities does not work. Our problems are different; our societies are different. In other words, education is not something like a supermarket. It must address itself to societal needs and, for that to happen, you cannot just have a little branch of Harvard or Columbia. It has to be specific to the country and society.

    Q. Do you see any fundamental change coming in the 11th five-year plan?

    A. Not really. I think the original approach paper was very conservative. There is a lot of criticism. It is pretty much going along the old way. I do not see any significant change in the five year plan.

    Q. Where is India going, as far as development is concerned?

    A. Let me put it this way. If the notion of development consists of becoming a big power, a major player in international arena and so on, then India has taken it seriously. But that is not my notion of development. Development is an improvement in the living condition of the people, and if that is the notion of development, I believe India is not doing well at all. To me, big-power status is irrelevant. What is relevant to me, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, is wiping away the tears from the eyes of every India. That is what we have to do.

    Comment by Prashant — April 21, 2007 @ 8:41 pm

  13. Under Capitalism, it’s a case of man exploiting man. Under socialism, it’s vice versa.
    Joke in Moscow: Everything that the Soviets told us about communism is absolutely untrue. Unfortunately, everything they told us about capitalism is absolutely true.

    Comment by akhondofswat — April 21, 2007 @ 8:59 pm

  14. Kerala is a state endowed with good ports, water, excellent human
    resources and capital, but their attitude has made the state unfit
    for new industrialisation. Hence Keralites migrate all over the
    world in search of employment. Pls see savekerala.blogspot.com

    And Praful Bidwai has written in Frontline, that patent rights should
    be abolished, as no one invents anything new, but based on all other’s
    inputs… And C.P.Chandrasekar (of JNU) wants tax rates to be rised to
    fund govt projects. i wrote a strong mail to Cp.C that we are advocating a new progressive tax rate of some 73 % for JNU professors
    and journalists. and asked him to take a risk and quit his safe and
    nice govt job and start a venture like publishing, etc, so that he
    may understand the problems of entreupreuners like me.

    the govt funding for JNU must be slashed or regulated first. these
    guys live on cozy govt dole and preach that others should sacrifice
    for the welfare..

    and when Frontline covered the bus strike in TN in 2001, and did not
    elicit the opinions of the poor commuters (only the views of unions
    and bureacrats), i wrote to N.Ram of Frontline to try travelling in
    a govt bus for a month first to his office, then we shall discuss the
    merits of the issue. these guys travel in luxurious limos and
    talk about socialism, etc…

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — April 22, 2007 @ 8:10 am

  15. [...]  Nitin reacts to an article in the Financial Times: Anyone who describes India’s jettisoning of the licence raj in 1991 using words like “neo-liberal” is necessarily confused. And anyone who writes about Indian agriculture quoting P Sainath and no one else is necessarily unbalanced. [..] Following a ‘neoliberal agenda’ the Indian government “scaled back provision of water, seed and credit, driving farmers to gamble on export crops like genetically modified cotton”. That puts an ideology (neo-liberalism, of course) to the government’s sheer incompetence and neglect of investing in the provision of basic public services. But it does not prove that water, seed and credit would have reached farmers had there been no reforms. Linked by kuffir [...]

    Pingback by Poor governance at Blogbharti — April 23, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

  16. [...] Nitin criticizes an article published in the Financial Times for its rather confusing than convincing take on neoliberalism, and the tale of two Indias.. Following a ‘neoliberal agenda’ the Indian government “scaled back provision of water, seed and credit, driving farmers to gamble on export crops like genetically modified cotton”. That puts an ideology (neo-liberalism, of course) to the government’s sheer incompetence and neglect of investing in the provision of basic public services. But it does not prove that water, seed and credit would have reached farmers had there been no reforms. [...]

    Pingback by DesiPundit » Archives » The “two Indias” debate continues — April 25, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

  17. I don’t get your argument. Are you suggesting that the slashing of subsidies was a result of government mismanagement and not a required part of the “reforms program” advocated by the Bretton Woods institutions. The dismantling of social safety nets has been advocated in every economy which has opened over the last 25 odd years.

    Secondly, the question of patent rights if far more complicated than K.R makes it out to be. When the current interantional patent regime comes into being in India (we are still holding out to some extent along with Brazil and South Africa) it will kill entreprenurial initiative. Owning a technology, such as a product based patent for a drug effectively prevents anyone from attempting to redesign the same drug to improve its quality or reduce its price. Chandrashekar;s article, if we are talking about the same one, argues that India not recognize product based patents and continue with process based patents.

    Many of these economists are not questioning that fair and free markets are good, but are questioning whether existing markets are actually free or fair. And certainly, suicides are not a necessary byproduct of economic reforms, but they are a byproduct of the way these reforms were carried out in India.

    Comment by Red — April 30, 2007 @ 4:16 am

  18. Hey all.
    I think there\’s a definite bias on this blog, in terms of defining the whole paradigm of development. (Somehow I get the feeling I\’m probably not the first to bring this up). The standard stuff says that as a country develops it shifts from a primary-sector based economy to a secondary sector based one and then finally a tertiary sector based one. Basically we shift from being producers to consumers. But the guys writing all that stuff in the textbooks are largely speaking from two imperialist environments, with a underlying motive (maybe even innocent) to \’make them like us\’. They\’ve also succeeded in making a good number of us think like them. That doesn\’t necessarily mean that India or any \’underdeveloped\’ country needs to follow that path at all!
    I wonder if it\’s possible to have some sort of dialogue here on the question of development. Does it mean turning ourselves into consuming machines (which we largely already are?) What about, say, moving towards a subsistence economy, where production is rooted in ecological sustainability, biodiversity, and the *real* producers – ecosystems, people who live in close contact with the earth, etc. are given a little more respect as they are. It\’s also essential for producers and consumers to move closer together both geographically and in terms of thought. There is a HUGE gap between economic growth and ecological and social sustainability. They are pulling in opposite directions.
    Why have farmers not benefited from structural adjustment or \’reforms\’ or whatever? Because these reforms have largely been antithetical to the very nature of sustainable agriculture. Let\’s face it – a lot of our \’food\’ is not grown for consumption but for money. It\’s been heading this way from the time of the Ryotwari and Zamindari systems, when the purpose of growing crops headed for money, and landlords competed with each other to see who could suck the most money out of the land, in exchange for muscle power. That promoted mono-cropping and cash-cropping, and led to quite a devaluation of a plethora of nutritious and environmentally sustainable crops. In fact, Amartya Sen\’s (who it\’s easier to worship than to read) work largely points to how India\’s large famines occurred largely because the Raj and the government were so obsessed with export-led growth. The farmer suicides in Andhra, Vidarbha, and the starvation deaths in Maharashtra and Orissa have all been because of rising monetary and political inequality.
    In fact, there are places where women (generally from marginalised communities) forming grain banks (now made mandatory by the Supreme Court but poorly implemented) and conserving various seeds – millets, dryland crops, dryland varieties of rice. There have even been instances where communities have restored the fertility and health of soil towards growing diverse and sustainable crops – generally traditional varieties.
    I find it quite shocking that nobody even seems to be questioning these things. There also seems to be a phobia/hatred of all \’leftward\’ thought, which is not all critique. Of course, the critique is quite valuable as well.
    Resistance and reconstruction are both necessary. They are two sides of the same coin. No, all \’leftward\’ people are not criticising stuff all the time. There are many who are not particularly bothered about what people think or how famous they become, but instead get to work on these things. There are a lot of movements, NGOs, individuals in this country involved with bridging these gaps, though their solutions will not necessarily boost GDP. And yes, they do write, they do share their experiences, but you generally won\’t find it in mainstream papers, generally not even in \’The Hindu\’. You need to look elsewhere.
    By the way. If we fall sick, go to the pharmacy, buy medicines, and then eat them, and then get better, the GDP will grow because of the expenditure on transport, medicine etc. But if we take preventive measures and fall sick less often, the GDP won\’t grow as much. So is health bad and sickness good? If I combine my exercise routine – a walk – with my transport, and decide to walk to work, that will be better for my health, better for the environment (ATP is cleaner energy than petrol) and it\’s also nice if I get a bunch of people to walk along. But, oops, the GDP won\’t grow.
    Also, AP and Vidarbha aren\’t the only places where suicides happened/continue to happen. They are the ones which have somewhat made it to the mainstream media. And by the way, the situation has not necessarily gotten better because they are out of the spotlight. In fact the government is now pushing Bt cotton more zealously than ever. Farmer suicides are all over the place. There are farmers committing suicide in my own block – Kaniyambadi in Vellore district. There are also people committing suicide in Punjab and Haryana – those much touted models of agricultural prosperity which are now under ecological and social threat. The sex ratio in Punjab is the lowest in India – 793 women per 1000 men.

    Comment by dhruva — May 10, 2007 @ 9:08 am

  19. Dhruva – I came to this discussion several months late, but your comment is such a breath of fresh air that I feel compelled to congratulate you for it! This forum, as you point out, doesn’t take dissenting voices very well, particularly any that do not have a far right inclination. Such voices are usually silenced not by attacking the argument, but the person making the argument.

    However, your comment is even more relevant for bringing out the basic presumptions that underlie the bias here – that development is synonymous with economic growth through consumption and production. That model has some interesting paradoxes that you reveal here. To your examples of Punjab’s sex ratio (which incidentally has worsened with economic growth and prosperity), and health I add one more – that given the desire for growth, the drug industry actually is based on the incentive not of preventing sickness but curing it enough that it reappears.

    Even if growth is indeed the only model available to us, it is useful to distinguish between it and development as two separate phenomena – if for no other reason than to be able to distinguish between what is the means and what is the end. It is unfortunate any serious debate is lost in the name calling that accompanies any comment that is on the center or its left.

    Comment by Dweep — August 21, 2007 @ 3:08 pm

  20. Dweep says \”This forum, as you point out, doesn’t take dissenting voices very well, particularly any that do not have a far right inclination. Such voices are usually silenced not by attacking the argument, but the person making the argument.\”

    Dweep — I\’m a bit offended by this statement. Do you have evidence to back your claim?

    Comment by Prashant — August 21, 2007 @ 5:57 pm

  21. Quoting Dhruva here –
    [QUOTE]By the way. If we fall sick, go to the pharmacy, buy medicines, and then eat them, and then get better, the GDP will grow because of the expenditure on transport, medicine etc. But if we take preventive measures and fall sick less often, the GDP won\\’t grow as much. So is health bad and sickness good?[END OF QUOTE]

    I am not an economist but I do think that if you fall sick there would be a negative effect on the economy. This would because
    1. You miss work or You attend work but with reduced productivity.
    2. The money that you spend on medicines is not created out of nowhere. If you hadn\’t fallen sick, you would have spent the money on buying products/goods/services which would have contributed equally to GDP growth.

    Even if we were to assume that spending on medicines raises GDP growth more than any other goods/service, your reduced productivity at work would more than outweigh that and cause an overall loss to GDP.

    [QUOTE]Farmer suicides are all over the place. There are farmers committing suicide in my own block – Kaniyambadi in Vellore district. There are also people committing suicide in Punjab and Haryana[END OF QUOTE]

    Can you prove that farmer suicides are a direct result of liberalisation/globalisation/whatever-you-want-to-call-it? One way to attribute blame would be to check the number of farmer suicides before, say 1990 and compare them to 2007. Only if there\’s been an increase in these years, can we even begin to blame liberalisation for it.

    [QUOTE BY DWEEP]To your examples of Punjab’s sex ratio (which incidentally has worsened with economic growth and prosperity[END OF QUOTE]

    Just hypothesizing here…could there be a link between economic growth and increase in female foeticide? Could it be that more people can now afford to get an illegal scan to check the gender of the baby? Maybe the intent has always been there – and now the means are more affordable.

    Comment by Ace — August 21, 2007 @ 7:22 pm

  22. @ Dhruva: A Freakonomics type argument, in a welfare state, would say that a sick person, whose employer has to keep paying him while he is sick, makes better economic contribution by dying early. But where the person cannot be replaced easily and there is no welfare state, perhaps death with its finality is an overall bigger loss than sickness with a finite possibility of resuming the benefit of the person’s economic productivity at a somewhat later date.

    Prevention is harder to demonstrate in economic/ numerical terms, which is why so few private sector organisations propose it. Exception being health insurance firms which are promoting exercise now, because those, who do not, get sick more often and cost more money than they pay as premia, but do not necessarily die. The savings from prevention in such cases is more demonstrable by comparison than other population based assessments.

    Thanks.

    Comment by Shefaly — August 22, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

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