Category Archives: Economy

Replace Modinomics with New Deal

These days, we often come across the term ‘Modinomics’ in the mass media. Recently, after the Seoul Peace Prize to Prime Minister Modi was announced, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Mr. Raveesh Kumar tweeted by saying that Modi received the award for his contribution to high economic growth in India and world through ‘Modinomics’.  Even during the 1990s and 2000s, when Dr. Manmohan Singh was ruling the roost as the Finance Minister and later as the Prime Minister, we would often hear the term ‘Manmohanomics’. When people hear such portmanteau words they tend to feel that all these ‘nomics’ are different from each other and they are the original creations of the people with whom the words are associated.

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Things, however, are different. All these ‘nomics’ with the names of our politicians as their prefixes are simply the plagiarized versions of the original ‘Reaganomics’. Because president Ronald Reagan was the first leader who implemented the laissez-faire aka trickle-down economics, which resulted in the subjugation of the working class and the conferment of the pre-eminent position on the ultra-rich. But even here if you feel that Reagan himself had formulated the Reaganomics, you are grossly mistaken. The famed Reaganomics was brewed by a set of economists led by Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek.

Sometime in April 1947 a group of economists led by F. A. Hayek assembled in a Swiss resort and founded a society called Mont Pelerin Society. The economists associated with this think tank opposed the Marxist and Keynesian economics and abhorred any kind of collectivism. Their ideas were later known to be the ‘neo-liberalism’ and the scholars associated with this thinktank went on to become the advisors to the president Reagan and influenced his economic policies. And President Reagan, surrounded by the Wall Street bankers such as Donald Regan, who famously ordered Reagan to ‘speed it up’, generously gave tax cuts to the tycoons even while trimming the social programs and altering the labor laws which led to their subjugation.

When the Washington Consensus was formulated in 1989 by John Williamson, a British economist, he simply summarized the neoliberal prescription made by the Mont Pelerin Society into 10 points. This ten-point program, which gained notoriety as structural adjustment, was peddled as a standard ‘reform package’ for the crisis-ridden third world. The ‘reform’ package is imposed on the developing nations when they approach the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout. The two international financial institutions continue to carry out the neoliberal project with a missionary zeal.

Manmohan and Modi have simply been implementing the neo-liberal prescription, in other words, the trickle-down economics with impunity in the garb of economic ‘reforms’. And therefore, there is nothing original in all these ‘nomics’. The ruling dispensation and the media have popularized these portmanteau terms with a mischievous motive to glorify these politicians with an intention to promote the economic and political interests of the top 1% of the society.

In 1991 Dr. Manmohan Singh accepted the prescription that came as a precondition for a loan from the IMF and implemented it in the country. Modinomics is only a ‘kadak’ version of that toxic brew. It is all part of ‘laissez-faire devil may care’ scheme and its beneficiaries are the top 1% of the society. This scheme puts the tycoons’ ease of doing business first and the people’s ease of living last. Moreover, it considers any social sector spending that is intended to bring about human development as ‘populist’.

Laissez-faire loves economic growth but abhors human development, it loves the ease of doing business but resents ease of living, it likes dazzling physical infrastructure but dislikes social spending, and it advocates trickle down and denounces any eminence to working class. And in a way, it transforms democracy, as the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz rightly stated, into an arrangement that is “of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”.
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Our politicians and their tycoon cronies are very clever. Even while gaming the policies and institutions in a stealthy and insidious manner to serve their narrow self-interest, they don’t forget to use terms such as human development, democracy, and social integration. They say that ‘their growth’ through whatever ‘nomics’ it is, led to the human development, strengthening of democracy and brought about more social integration. Their statements, which are laden with mischievous use of words that are sacred and convey beautiful ideas, are nothing more than cruel jokes played on the lives of the commoners.

It appears that our politicians, who are bereft of any original ideas, are simply imitating the American capitalism by implementing ‘Reaganomics’. If they feel that they can’t do without imitating something American, they had better emulate Franklin D. Roosevelt because the people of India are very much in need of a ‘New Deal’. Therefore, now is the time to replace Modinomics with a New Deal.

Save the Sanctity of Words

Prime Minister Modi won Seoul Peace Prize 2018. He will be receiving this award for his contribution to high economic growth in India and world through ‘Modinomics’. In this neo-liberal era awards have their own meanings and purposes and let’s not be too concerned about them. However, what we must be worried about is the sheer misuse and abuse of the words that are considered sacrosanct by the society.

After the award was announced, the Ministry of External Affairs of India released a statement saying, “the Seoul Peace Prize Committee has decided to confer the 2018 Seoul Peace Prize on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in recognition of his dedication to improving international cooperation, raising global economic growth, accelerating the Human Development of the people of India by fostering economic growth in the world’s fastest growing large economy and furthering the development of democracy through anti-corruption and social integration efforts”.

The three words, namely human development, democracy and social integration stand out in the statement and are incongruous with the words next to them. The mischievous use of these words, which are noble and sacrosanct made me feel really surprised and saddened. Language is not a static object and it constantly and continuously keeps evolving. Words that are sacrosanct and mean beautiful things, when used for unintended purposes very frequently, lose their sanctity and beauty over time. Now the question arises what Modi had done to further the cause of human development, democracy and social integration, that too through his ‘Modinomics’?

Weren’t all the ‘nomics’ such as Modinomics and Manmohanomics plagiarized forms of Reaganomics? And wasn’t the Reaganomics based on the neo-liberal prescription given by a group of economists led by Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek? So, the fact is Modi has been implementing the neo-liberal prescription, which was pioneered by some laissez-faire economists, and was first implemented in the US by the President Ronald Reagan. In 1991 Dr. Manmohan Singh accepted the prescription that came as a precondition for a loan from the IMF and implemented it in the country. Modinomics is only a ‘kadak’ version of that toxic brew, and there is nothing original in it. It is all part of ‘laissez faire devil may care’ scheme and its beneficiaries are the top 1% of the society. This scheme puts the tycoons’ ease of doing business first and the people’s ease of living last. Moreover, it considers any social sector spending that is intended to bring about human development as ‘populist’.

The neo-liberal prescription is a conspiracy hatched by a bunch of politicians, economists and their tycoon cronies to further their interests. And a section of the media owned by the corporates worked hard to confer sanctity on the prescription by terming it as ‘reform’. The word ‘reform’ can maintain its sanctity only if it is progressive and can contribute to a greater human welfare. How can a system that subjugates the poor and empowers the rich to further accumulate wealth be termed as ‘reform’?

The Modi dispensation, in the name of promoting free enterprise, implements the ‘trickle-down’ economics, which promotes the interests of the ultra-rich on the pretext of accelerating the economic growth. The much touted ‘trickle- down’ never happens and all we see is a great ‘gush-up’, which adds to the numbers of the ultra-rich. Therefore, the claim that “accelerating the Human Development of the people of India by fostering economic growth” is as big a myth as “Lord Ganesha was the first patient to undergo head transplantation”.

Coming to democracy, the demonic actions of the current government, which include arbitrary arrests of the human rights activists by branding them as urban naxals, systematic undermining of the democratic institutions such as judiciary, investigative agencies, the RBI and the election commission and passing gag orders on the academia barring them from being critical of the government, all these things point to only one thing. Under the current dispensation there is a speedy corrosion of democracy.

And as far as social integration is concerned, we are not witnessing any of it. And in fact, we are only seeing an increasing amount of social stratification. Lynch mobs are thriving on the pretext of protecting cows and atheists are being killed for questioning superstitions, and as a result the divide between various communities only widened. The excessive enthusiasm being shown by the Hindu rightwing to derive electoral benefits from non-issues such as Ram temple and Sabarimala temple verdict is further vitiating the highly charged atmosphere. Their actions are causing a lot of damage to the social fabric of the country and resulting in a speedy depletion of our social capital.

So, irrespective of who wins what award, it is the responsibility of the people to safeguard the sanctity of some words that represent beautiful ideas. Because these ideas are cherished by all the people, especially the poor and the downtrodden and stand as a ray of hope for them. They also enable them to feel important and cultivate a sense of dignity. When these words are misused in a mischievous manner with an intention to promote the narrow self-interests of some people, it a sure sign of an impending danger to the ideas and ideals the words stand for.

Let’s Strive for an Inclusive Economy

Economics touches every aspect of our lives, yet most of us pay scant attention to it. Paul A. Samuelson, the Nobel laureate and author of the most well-known book on economics, declared, “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws, if I can write its economics textbooks”. Economics, being the language spoken in the corridors of power, empowers those who understand its intricacies. Conversely, those who fail to comprehend the jargon-laden talk of the economists stay powerless as they are unable to deduce the economic policies formulated in the highest spheres of power.

In India people are clueless why the 3Ps – politicians, plutocrats and public servants – always talk about “ease of doing business” aka deregulation and are hypervigilant about the movement of stock market indexes. Nor do they have any idea why are they obsessed with the fiscal deficit and keep harping on maintaining fiscal austerity. They forever remain under the impression that their leaders are doing it in the best interests of the entire society and are hardly aware of the fact that deregulation, rapacious speculation and socialization of corporate losses are the things that are responsible for transforming democracy into an arrangement that is ‘of the 1%, by the 1% and for the 1%’.
As the ordinary people simply don’t know how to safeguard their economic interests, it has become easy for the people at the helm of affairs to hoodwink them. Taking advantage of the situation, the 3Ps, who are brought together by the three forces – power, capital and campaign financing – continue to have their heyday.

The politicians and the economists are so impressed with laissez-faire economics that they seem to have come to the conclusion that if they can proactively promote the interests of the plutocrats, who constitute the 1%, the supposedly generous ‘invisible hand’ takes care of everything else, enabling the 99% to lap up the ‘tricked down’ things.
The 99% are not aware of the fact that our leaders are only bothered about the man-made capital and they left all the other capitals, namely human capital, natural capital and social capital to the free market. The free market, however, is only interested in man-made capital, and when the other three capitals are entrusted to it, it fully commodifies them which results in further marginalization of the underprivileged.

The market forces, with their excesses, have already caused irreparable damage to the three capitals. They commercialized health and education, which groom the human capital. They poisoned all the natural capital by mainstreaming the highly unsustainable consumerist culture. And, by paving the way for concentration of wealth in a few hands, they caused the waning of a sense of identity, trust and equality of opportunity, which constitute social capital.

The politicians, taking advantage of the uninterestedness and lack of awareness prevalent among the people on economic issues, manage to deflect their attention onto trivial yet potentially incendiary topics as part of their social engineering efforts to reap electoral benefits. And, in the process, they harm the social fabric of the society by turning our pluralistic ethos, which are undoubtedly our biggest strength, into a major vulnerability.
Our politicos, though they pose as the messiah of the masses during their electioneering, promote full throttle the interests of the big capital once in power by giving a big push to the neo-liberal economic policies such as tax cuts, deregulation and dilution in labor and environmental laws, for full four years. It is only after they suffer a few electoral reverses on the way to general elections, they realize that their social engineering efforts have lost steam and started yielding diminishing returns. And the realization makes them comply with the political business cycle, forcing them to introduce some big-ticket welfare schemes. These schemes, which are introduced with much fanfare, are mostly implemented half-heartedly only to be diluted slowly to cause their eventual demise.
The economics that is taught in the reputed universities, where most of India’s well-known economists were trained, is neoclassical economics, which is replete with mathematical equations that are detached from human psychology and the real-world situations. It appears that in the garb of complexity the vested interests want to promote a particular type of economic narrative that fits the requirement of the ultra-rich.

Three undergraduate students of University of Manchester, who got disillusioned with the kind of economics taught in the universities in the UK, expressed their dissent through their book titled ‘The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts’, in which they questioned the monopoly status of neoclassical economics in the curriculum. They opined that “the monopoly of a particular and narrow form of economics, and the way the subject matter is taught (‘pedagogy’) amount to nothing less than the dictionary definition of indoctrination”. We should not forget the fact that the neo-liberalism advocated by economists such as Milton Friedman and FD Hayek, who sowed the seeds of concentration of wealth and working-class deprivation, is closely related to neoclassical economics.

Now the question arises as to why the prestigious universities all over the world teach economic theories that serve the interests of the big businesses? The answer lies in the fact that these universities receive donations from the plutocrats who own these big businesses to their endowments. With some exceptions, even the media, which is mostly owned by the big businesses, promotes the neoliberal economic thought very aggressively to make it mainstream. Therefore, an overwhelming majority of the institutions that exert major influence on the society are collectively promoting the economic thought that serves the interests of the plutocrats, which is detrimental to the interests of the commoners.
If we want to create an inclusive society, we need to incorporate alternative theories in the economics curriculum and even make it comprehensible to the commoners. Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which brought inequality back onto the center stage, made a marvelous attempt in that direction. It’s high time the civil society gave a serious thought about the economic direction our country should take and how to incorporate the ideas such as equality of opportunity and sustainability into the economic thought.

How BJP’s ‘Swadeshi’ morphed into neo-liberalism?

Those were the days when I was living in the famous temple town, Bhadrachalam. I was an undergraduate student in the local government degree college. I was an active member (a Swayamsevak) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and would attend Shakha wearing Khaki Knickers on an almost daily basis.

One day they distributed some leaflets in the Shakha and explained to us about the importance of getting back to Swadeshi. Those leaflets were published by an organization called Swadeshi Jagran Manch affiliated to the RSS. They said it is our responsibility to bring about awareness among the people about the need of patronizing the goods manufactured by the Indian companies. At that time I got attracted towards the idea and enrolled myself in the campaign. I, along with a senior Swayamsevak, visited many villages to distribute those leaflets and tell them about the need of using our Indian products to attain economic self-sufficiency. The activists of SJM would always tell us that they are against the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and advocate self-reliance. The Parivar leaders, however, would regularly hit the headlines by sporting the hugely popular French-made Reynolds pens and struggling to explain their double standard. This swadeshi campaign continued till the BJP came to power. Thereafter, I did not hear much about it.

A few days ago, while I was reading a newspaper, I came across a news item stating that the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which sank into oblivion for a long time, organized a protest in Delhi opposing the Flipkart-Walmart deal. They say that the deal adversely affects the livelihoods of the millions of merchants, who run brick and mortar stores and may cause widespread unemployment. This news surprised me a lot. It made me wonder whether the Sangh Parivar has any economic policy at all.

Before they came to power they advocated swadeshi and self-reliance and would indulge in sloganeering stating that “we want computer chips, not potato chips”. And after coming to power, they installed Modi, one of the foremost darlings of neo-liberalism in the seat of power. Modi has been implementing his Modinomics, which is strikingly similar to neo-liberal Reaganomics pioneered by Ronald Reagan. He has been pushing the so-called economic reforms introduced by the Congress government at a breakneck speed.

Recently the Forbes magazine declared Modi as one of the most influential leaders of the world, along with Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Jeff Bezos, Mukesh Ambani and Pope Francis. If you closely observe the combination, we get to know that politicians, plutocrats and clergymen continue to rule the world leaving commoners no place.

Look at the modus operandi of Modi. He kept Indian economy’s doors wide open for FDI, diluted labour and environmental laws, gave a huge bailout to the corporates in the name of bank recapitalization, announced corporate tax cuts, and leaving no stone unturned to attract foreign direct investment. Even when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat he organized the Vibrant Gujarat Summit amidst much fanfare to attract the foreign investors. It is a well-known fact that Modi and tycoons (whether domestic or foreign) are just like Siamese twins. Modi gives them ‘ease of doing business’ and the tycoons give him the ‘ease of campaigning’. And from the marriage of the ‘Hindutva’ Modi and ‘corporate’ tycoons, an offspring called ‘corporate Hindutva’ was born and ruling the nation unhinderedly.

Now, who is Modi? Wasn’t he installed by the RSS? Wasn’t he an active member of RSS before he entered politics? Didn’t he know about the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and its ideas? He knows everything. And he does what he does in spite of knowing everything.

The thing that we all should know is the Sangh Parivar people use each and everything they can latch on to promote themselves. They don’t have any specific policies, they are not concerned about people’s welfare and they don’t even bother about Hinduism or the nation. They just use all these things to promote their toxic and worn out ideas with an aim to promote themselves.

You might be wondering after burying Swadeshi and indulging in empty rhetoric in the name of Make in India, what is the need for Swadeshi Jagran Manch to hit the streets now. It is exactly because the BJP is mostly supported by the upper-class people, especially the traders, who are either rich or ultra-rich. There are many apprehensions among the traders that Flipkart-Walmart deal may adversely affect their prospects. Therefore, sensing the discomfort among their electorate, they stage-managed this demonstration just to create an impression that they continue to side with the traders. The Parivar people are blatantly fork-tongued and practice rampant double standards. When they face Hindus they say “Jai Sriram” and promise a Ram Temple. And while campaigning in Meghalaya they promise free trips to Jerusalem. When Modi goes to Davos he gets photographed with Nirav Modi and talks about ease of doing business. And when he enters campaigning mode he repeatedly reminds people that he is the son of a Chaiwala and delivers attractive slogans which so far proved to be nothing more than an empty rhetoric.

It is increasingly becoming evident that these people neither have an ideology nor do they have a specific policy to bring any improvement in the lives of the people. They just want to exploit the inherent emotions among the people and hoodwink them to serve their narrow self-interest. To tap these emotions they use 3 Hs (Hindi- upper caste Hindu and Hindustan). The people who voted for the Modi-led BJP government expected that he would improve their lot. However, his rule proved that he is no better than the UPA regime led by the ma-beta and it only added some useless things such as ‘3Hs and a Cow’ to hoodwink people.

For now, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch is dormant. It, however, may resume its operations if Modi government gets voted out of power to create trouble for the next government.

Credit fueled consumption is unsustainable

Credit card cum personal loan sales pitch is ubiquitous these days. You almost invariably have to face it when you visit a shopping mall or sign in to your mail box or answer your phone. Many of us wonder why banks try hard to persuade us to apply for one more credit card or avail one more personal loan. It is because the consumer credit business, as per many economists, is obscenely profitable.

Promotion of credit-fueled binge
In this rampantly consumerist society a person’s status is judged by the kind of products and services he/she uses, and therefore savings are derided, conspicuous consumption is admired and frugality is looked down upon. Business corporations invent new needs on a regular basis and release new products that supposedly meet those needs. Moreover, our leaders and economists, who are obsessed with the GDP growth numbers, keep prodding us to shop more to promote consumption-led growth. So a large chunk of the society, especially the urban dwellers, have transitioned from ‘save and invest’ mode to ‘borrow and spend’ mode.

It appears that this neo-liberal world runs on perpetual debt. The availability of cheap money is the most important hallmark of this economic system. The laissez-faire capitalism, epitomized by jobless growth, proliferation of sweatshops, technological unemployment and marginalization of the working class, empowers the rich to turn super-rich and entraps the poor in perpetual impoverishment. Though the neoliberalism appears to strengthen the middle class in the emerging economies, the very fact that it weakened it in its epicenter, the United States, bears testimony to the fact that it will ultimately weaken even the middle class in every country that embraced it. So the sum total effect of all the above things is concentration of economic power in very few hands and reduced purchasing power for the rest. So the only way the politicos and plutocrats can push the consumption spending and thereby GDP numbers up is to promote credit-fueled consumption.

Credit card – an ingenious invention
Many governments, including India, are paying a lot of attention to supply side economic policies such as corporate tax cuts and deregulation combined with fiscal rectitude, in the expectation that those measures increase investment and result in a raise in economic activity. They, however, are increasingly turning a blind eye to the phenomenon of jobless growth, and as a result the wages of the working class in most of the countries are either getting flattened out or going into a downward spiral. But neither the politicos nor the lords of big capital are ready to pay heed to the problem as they both are happy with the current arrangement, where lobbying and campaign financing play a major role in policy formulation.

The owners of big capital treat the working class only as creatures who provide them with labor and never hesitate to get rid of them. They, however, seem to be unmindful of the fact that the working class also provides them with the much needed mass market and by nurturing them they actually nurture themselves. But they seem to ignore this fact and blindly moving ahead with their plans of robotic automation. They might be feeling that the humanoids can better serve their interests than the ‘emotion afflicted and union infested humans’. The problem, however, is unlike humans, humanoids don’t have any wants, and therefore can’t spur consumption-led growth.

Marx had predicted that the capitalism will meet its end when the owners of big capital, in their greed for more profits, will squeeze workers’ wages until they lose their power to purchase the goods they created. The unceasing exploitation and marginalization of the working class and the resultant deterioration of their purchasing power has created a ripe situation for the collapse of neoliberalism. However, the plutocrats who have a lot at stake in the preservation of the system, are inventing ingenious methods to postpone the collapse, and credit card is one among them.

Credit-induced slavery
Banks, from time to time, come up with various offers to tempt the people to get their credit cards. They, however, levy excessive charges and late fees on customers. Moreover, they like customers who pay minimum dues and never repay the original amount due. This results in the middle class and the lower middle class getting stuck in perpetual debt and the investors of banks and credit card companies getting even richer. So in a way credit cards are playing a vital role in facilitating the ‘gush up’ effect where the money travels up from the middle class into the hands of the rich to further widen the economic inequalities.

The urban middle class in India appear to be going on a credit fueled spending binge. According to the monthly data released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the outstanding credit card loans increased 39 percent year-on- year to Rs 59,900 crore in September 2017, while the overall retail loans rose 16.8 percent year-on- year to Rs 17.5 lakh crore.

Indebtedness has been a constant companion of rural India, where an overwhelming majority of the households still depend on agriculture for their livelihood. According to India Spend, a data journalism website, “nearly 70% of India’s 90 million agricultural households spend more than they earn on average each month, pushing them towards debt, which is now the primary reason in more than half of all suicides by farmers nationwide”. Government, instead of working towards improving the farmers’ lot and providing them with remunerative prices, issued Kisan Credit Cards (KCCs) to them, implying that farmers don’t have any other way except depending on debt. With the prospects for an increase in farming incomes thinning, all this debt may someday end up turning into NPAs.

Promoting common good
Henry Hazlitt, considered to be one of the most important public intellectuals of the 20 th century, stated, “the art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups”. Today’s economists, however, enthusiastically advocate the policies that facilitate credit-fueled instant gratification of wants that will ultimately prove to be beneficial to the rich and pay scant attention to either sustainability or inclusiveness. But there appears to be no end to this undesirable phenomenon as the people who are at the helm of affairs are happy with the current system, and the people who are at the receiving end of it are either blissfully unaware of what is happening or withdrew into an apathy.

Ease of doing business is okay but when will we have ease of living?

After the pro-rich neo liberalism emerged triumphant, people who are at the helm of affairs appear to be obsessed with only one thing – that is ‘ease of doing business’. Every year the World Bank releases the ease of doing business index, in which it ranks countries on the basis of their business friendliness. If a country wants to be business friendly, in other words if it wants to improve its ease of doing business ranking, it needs to listen to the World Bank, the custodian of the big business corporations.

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Now the question arises as to what exactly the big businesses want? Though they cite some cleverly worded performance indicators to compile the index, their true intention appears to be something else. They want land at throw away prices even if it is fertile agriculture land, they want licenses to be issued immediately even if their business are likely to result in environmental degradation, they want labor laws to be favorable to them so that it becomes easy for them to hire and fire the workers and exploit them, they want the government to respond favorably to their ‘bail out’ demands from time to time so that they transfer their risk on to the tax payers notwithstanding the fact that they cozily enjoy their profits during their heyday. And, finally, they want the corporate taxes to be lowered to enable them to take more profits.

The top 1 percent of people, who control almost 60 percent of the nation’s wealth, are the ones who are dictating the country and influencing the policy formulation. The people who are at the helm of affairs run the country as per the diktats of their corporate cronies. Regimes come and regimes go but crony capitalism remains constant. The influential business classes ceaselessly lobby for an improvement in the ease of doing business. And in return they fund the election campaigns of their political cronies. It all happens on a quid pro quo basis.

Government of India, in 2015, had formed a panel to improve the ease of doing business ranking of India. They, in the same breath, made the corporate funding of political parties more opaque to facilitate anonymous donations. These two actions make it amply clear how the politicians and business tycoons move hand in hand and serve each other’s interests. It appears that the government’s efforts to improve the ease of doing business have paid off and India leapfrogged to 100th position in the index, which triggered a euphoria among the politicians, big businesses and the press. Now, the government is gearing itself up to present it as one of its biggest achievements.

Well, they have the ‘ease of doing businesses’. Now the question is when the poor and the downtrodden will have the ‘ease of living index’? Their daily lives have become too laborious and stressful and they are leading agonizingly painful lives in squalid conditions. Their children don’t have enough food to eat. In the recently released Global Hunger Index (GHI) India featured at 100th position among the 119 countries, lagging behind even the North Korea ruled by a despotic regime and the war torn Iraq. The recent starvation death of a child in Jharkhand has thrown up a challenge to the country’s conscience and stamped ignominy upon the entire nation.

In spite of all this grinding poverty, our governments have been progressively reducing the welfare spending in the name of maintaining fiscal prudence. They say that the credit rating agencies may downsize our sovereign credit rating if we don’t keep our fiscal deficit under control by controlling the expenditure. They, however, don’t think about the same fiscal prudence while announcing the so-called ‘measures to spur the growth’. As part of the measures they give bailouts to big businesses in the name of bank recapitalization, give hefty pay hikes to the largely lackadaisical and venal government staff and splurge money on building physical infrastructure at the cost of the social infrastructure.

When the economy is not registering growth on expected lines they spend taxpayer’s money on building road and railway infrastructure. When they lay a road most of it gets occupied by private vehicles, with no or little corresponding improvement in the public transportation. When they construct a new railway most of the coaches will be either AC or sleeper with a very few general compartments. So whatever the government does it is all for the convenience of the rich and the ultra-rich who want to lead king-sized lives. Though Indian railways has acquired the notoriety of being deadly and back-to-back train accidents and an over bridge stampede have snuffed out many lives, the rulers, unmindful of the crumbling rail infrastructure, are even bringing the bullet train for the convenience of the rich.

In this consumerist neo-liberal economy, growth is fueled by excessive production and excessive consumption. And to spur the consumption, the government gives huge pay hikes to the unproductive government employees who are notorious for their venality. They are hardly bothered about the remunerative prices for the farmers or the minimum wages for the daily wage laborers.

Will any multilateral agency (not certainly the World Bank or the IMF) honestly evaluate the various countries on the basis of ease of living of the people and give a ranking accordingly? Will it ever happen? Perhaps never just because the poor and the downtrodden neither have any financial resources to influence the rulers nor are they tactful enough to form a group to exert pressure on the rulers. But if it ever happens India’s ranking, no doubt, will be similar to that of its GHI ranking.

Recently I read in a newspaper that World Bank is planning to rank the main cities all over the world on the basis of ease of living. The ease of living index, unlike ease of doing business index, should not confine itself to urban centers. Because though the businesses are mostly concentrated in urban centers, human habitations are spread everywhere. Moreover, the sacred task of bringing out an ease of living index should not be taken up by the World Bank, which is an embodiment of neoliberal ideology that played a lead role in making the developing countries all over the world to salami slice their welfare spending.

The gullible poor feel that standing in serpentine queues in front of polling booths for every five years to cast their votes is enough to ensure bright future for themselves and for their children. At the end of the five years term they realize that they were hoodwinked through empty promises. They even realize the fact that whenever they took to streets to demand for their rights they were either caned or fired upon. So once again they stand in queues to unseat the incumbent and install another one. They forever remain oblivious to the fact that the person who they are going to install will be more corrupt and inept than the previous one. The vicious circle continues perpetually. Meanwhile, all the rich and elite keep singing peons of praise of democracy and keep appreciating the people’s unending faith and commitment to democracy, though most of them don’t even venture out on a poling day to cast their votes. Because they know very well that the mammoth ritual called election is only for namesake and it is they who will be calling the shots ultimately.

Till now India was ruled by left-leaning though not left-wing political parties. For the first time in India’s history Hindutva forces have emerged strong riding on the threat of Islamist terror. What we are witnessing now is a deadly cocktail of corporate-Hindutva hegemony. This arrangement is proving to be a ‘Kamadhenu’ for the big businesses and that is exactly the reason for all the big business tycoons heaping an abundance of praise on the current regime. They form the mind and muscle of the Hindutva war machine.

On their part the Hindutva forces are busy hoodwinking people by delivering rousing speeches on cows, gods, statues, patriotism and nationalism with an intention to distract the attention of the poor and the downtrodden from the bread and butter issues and other pressing social problems.

As the lower middle class and the poor are leading their lives in an unending unease this is the time for them to demand an ease of living index. That ease of living index must take into consideration good quality education and health facilities provided free of cost, responsive government departments that effectively render the public services, and livelihood opportunities. And the responsibility of compiling the ease of living index should be taken by the civil society organizations which are known for their consistent pro-poor stand.

Our rulers, after they hurriedly embraced the neoliberalism in 1991, appear to have become oblivious to the fact that in a country like India where poverty is rampant and farmers and landless laborers are under distress, laissez-faire economics gradually turn the nation into a fiefdom of the rich. Unfortunately, however, the terms such as growth and ease of business became too sacrosanct and no one is willing to take the risk of questioning them.

In the pre-reform period the advocates of reforms would always say if you don’t create wealth how will you distribute it? Since the wealthy have generated mind-numbingly enormous wealth by using the societal resources, are they ready to part with a small percentage of it by paying the direct taxes honestly to enable the poor to at least satiate their hunger and meet some of their basic necessities? Everyday thousands of new swanky sedans and monstrous SUVs hit the Indian roads and the ever mushrooming jewelry and other luxury goods shops make brisk business but direct tax base widens at a snail’s pace. The government, instead of taxing the rich, has imposed the regressive and burdensome GST on the entire population.

Vote has certainly proven to be an ineffective weapon in bringing about a change in the system. The socially and economically disadvantaged people, setting aside their narrow differences of caste and community, must unite and find a weapon that is more powerful than vote to tear down this biased, exploitative and hegemonistic system and replace it with an alternative one.

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/what-about-an-ease-of-living-index/article19982523.ece

Oxfam report on inequality should be an eye opener for the world.

Even while half of the humanity survives on meager earnings and probably going hungry to bed night after night leading their destitute lives laboriously in the most squalid conditions, a handful of people, who are blessed with an over-abundance, lead ultra-luxurious lives disregarding the pain and suffering of their fellow humans. This is the essence of the recent Oxfam report, which has shed light on the ever-increasing economic inequalities that reflect the pathetic nature of human society as a greedy, biased and highly-unjust arrangement.

The pain of poverty and the resultant hunger are known to only those who have a first-hand experience of them. Leading a life of abject poverty not only involves experiencing the deprivation, but also looking at the gleaming wealth around them and cursing their fate.

One of the salient findings of Oxfam report is while the ultra-rich are accumulating their wealth at a pace never before seen, the poor are getting poorer at an equally faster pace. The finding implies that the economic inequalities are only going to get strongly entrenched in the society and the condition of the poor and the downtrodden will only worsen.

Hardly a day goes by without wereading and hearing about more investment, more production, more consumption and more savings that in-turn lead to more investment. Economists keep harping on the ‘more’and claim that it is a sure-shot path to prosperity. But it actually appears to be a vicious circle, which breads infinite greed and craving for ‘more’–more products and more services – to feed the demand of those who want to lead king-sized lives. Nations, in their pursuit of name, fame and one-upmanship, measure their prosperity in terms of GDP growth rates and those that are fortunate enough to have double-digit rates never miss an opportunity to brag about their prosperity. However, in this melee of growth rant, the humanity is unmindful of one fact: all the growth and prosperity is feeding only a select few and for an overwhelming majority of the people these growth numbers are not only incomprehensible but also don’t matter at all. The human society and its economy reached a sorry state where everything is “of the rich, by the rich and for the rich”, reducing the status of the poor into amere voiceless bystanders.

Now the big question is what could be the remedy to treat this sick world, which is increasingly becoming inequitableand unsustainable?

The human history is replete with efforts to make this earth a better place to live for all the humans. Philanthropic writers and thinkers dreamt of a utopian society where each and every human gets an opportunity to lead a decent and purposeful life. Unfortunately, Communism, which stood for the rights of the workers and fought for the establishment of an egalitarian society,appears to have lost steam midway though it was instrumental in bringing about a qualitative change in the lives of the working class.  Can we revert to Communism? Probably no. It is a forgone conclusion that Communism only breeds an inefficient and lackadaisical public sector manned by white elephants, which will be instrumental in not distributing wealth but distributing poverty equally.

Then what could be the alternative? Oxfam, which released the report titled “An Economy for the 99%” advocates working towards the building of a more human economy. It exhorts that

“Our economy must stop excessively rewarding those at the top and start working for all people. Accountable and visionary governments, businesses that work in the interests of workers and producers, a valued environment, women’s rights and a strong system of fair taxation, are central to this more human economy.”

This is indeed a sage advice. But who is ready to listen? The rich, who are neck deep in pursuit of more wealth, will never change their lifestyle. The excessive consumerism fueled by the hedonistic cravings of the rich and the upper middle class is polluting all the elements of nature, making the GDP growth-led development highly unsustainable.

Unfortunately the elite liberal opinion makers don’t lose any time in lobbying for lowering corporate taxes and wooing big business with too many concessions. The technology explosion and the resultant ultra-automation are expected to result in the further depletion of employment opportunities for the poor and the middle class.

In the words of Frederick Douglass, an African-American social reformer and abolitionist,

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

Therefore, the need of the hour is to realize the fact that an individual’s welfare lies in overall societal welfare. The people, especially the rich, should be more forthcoming to fulfill their responsibility towards the society.

If the rich feel that they can freely exploit the societal resources to promote their narrow self-interest disregarding the plight of the poor and the underprivileged, they are highly mistaken.  What we presently see, however, is wide-spread tax evasion, the proliferation of tax heavens and very scanty Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. The realization must dawn on the society that the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots is a ticking time bomb and we will never know when it will explode. The pent up frustrations and anger of the have-nots may manifest in totally unexpected ways and ignoring themcould prove potentially disastrous to the future of humankind. And the signs of a backlash have already started appearing on the horizon.

This globalized world, which witnessed an astounding growth for the last forty years, appears to be entering a phase of de-globalization. The poor and the downtrodden in various countries feel that the globalization has taken away their jobs and made their lives miserable. The right-wing populists, who have been waiting for an opportune moment to grab the spotlight by exploiting the fears of the poor and the middle class, started enjoying their heyday.Nobody expected Brexit would happen, and most importantly, nobody expected Donald Trump would occupy the top post in the US.Thedistressed common man on the street completely ignored the supposedly sage advice of the elite liberal opinion makers and exercised his option independently.

History is a testimony to the fact that poverty and economic inequality are the breeding grounds for ultra-nationalism and rabid communalism. The Islamist terror that is causing havoc all across the world has its roots in the failed states such as Pakistan, Afghanistan andYemenwhere poverty is rampant.

It appears that the humanity is passing through the most dangerous times, and if the world community does not take notice of the impending dangers and take corrective action, things may well go out of control. The need of the hour is to formulate policies that promote just, equitable and sustainable development which must lead to the promotion of maximum good for maximum people.

inequality

This article found place in the editorial page of the daily newspaper Telangana Today with the title “An economy for the other 99%”.

The link to the article is given hereunder:

http://telanganatoday.news/an-economy-for-the-other-99

 

 

India’s infatuation with gold is a social evil. It must be eradicated.

It is a fact universally known that Indians are very crazy about, or rather greedy for gold. Indian women are so fond of the yellow metal that they even keep pestering their husbands to buy more of it. This infatuation with gold resulted in India being the top most importers of the yellow metal in the world.  In fact, gold is the second most highly imported commodity by India after crude oil.

However, this fondness for gold is causing a lot of damage to the Indian economy and also resulting in a large amount of financial resources, otherwise productive, go useless.  As our domestic production of gold is very negligible, we are importing huge quantities of the precious metal from other countries by spending the valuable foreign exchange. Moreover, the gold imports are leading to a large current account deficit which is also known as trade deficit thus causing a lot of damage to the Indian economy.

Investment in Gold is counterproductive in many ways.

Gold prices are volatile and there is no guarantee of an appreciation in its price.

Owning gold poses safety and security problems as it has the potential to attract the attention of anti-social elements.

Buying Gold is an unproductive investment and, therefore, does not create any employment opportunities.

Gold jewelry is subject to wear and tear and thus gradually loses its value.

Owning gold imposes an unnecessary burden on people as they have to spend money to hire lockers for its safe keep.

The possession of gold jewelry in excess leads to the vulgar display of wealth by the elite, which leads to many undesirable effects on the society. People who don’t own any jewelry, coming under the influence of demonstration effect, buy it thus depriving themselves of more useful and productive goods and services.

Most of the gold jewelry that is sold in our country, especially in rural areas, is adulterated and, therefore, there is a fair chance of the buyers losing out on quality.

Gold is very handy for the fraudsters to hoard their unaccounted and ill-gotten money by converting it into bullion and store it without worrying about another episode of demonetization. So there is a direct correlation between the quantity of gold and the magnitude of the corruption.

So there are numerous disadvantages of owning gold and the advantages, if any, occur only to the elite class who want to stash their unaccounted wealth.

Fraudsters, who are inclined to make quick money and accumulate unaccounted wealth are entering into gold business. The jewelry sellers revealed their true colors and proved what they are capable of by selling huge quantities of gold to currency hoarders on the initial days of demonetization. Many of these jewelers were caught flouting the rules and huge caches of currency were seized from their possession.

There is a link between religion and gold. Hindus don’t leave any festive opportunity to buy gold. The Hindu clergy, who have a knack to mislead the community just to satisfy their narrow self-interest, fabricate fictitious stories, which are irrational to the core, just to promote the accumulation of gold among the followers of Hinduism. Festivals like ‘Akshaya Tritiya’ and ‘Dhanteras’ make people flock to the jewelry shops to procure the metal.

Worshipping wealth is a very good idea, but that wealth should create opportunities for the people and must contribute to the overall good of the society. Gold, the way people acquire it and use it in India, is only a manifestation of selfishness, greed and degeneration in ethics. Therefore, Hinduism, which requires reformation more than any other religion, should give a serious thought to this social evil and try to eradicate it.

This is the time for the government to bring about awareness among the people about the ill effects of accumulating gold and to formulate policies that thoroughly discourage the acquisition and consumption of the metal. Acquiring the precious metal by using unaccounted money should be treated as an offense and penalized accordingly. Regulation of the acquisition and consumption of the yellow metal is a much needed religious and socio-economic reform in our country which will invariably lead to the increased availability of financial resources to the productive purposes thus strengthening the economy.

How demonetization impacted my family?

I’m a salaried employee working for a private sector company located in Hyderabad. I and my wife lead a thrifty life, saving some money for the future of our two children. I save on my taxes through tax planning. It was on November 8th 2016 at 9 pm, while in office, I came to know about the demonetization announcement.

After I reached home, I asked my wife about the number of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes in the house. She said that there is only one Rs. 500 note. The very next day I used that note at a petrol bunk to get my two wheeler refueled. Since then we have been using our debit card to buy groceries from a nearby supermarket. However, on my way to office, I see long serpentine queues at most of the banks and at those very few ATMs which actually functioned. I can say that the demonetization had almost nil impact on my life except that it was a juicy news for me to share my views on the social media and pen down an article on it.

Why the demonetization had nil impact on my family?

Well, there are a few reasons.

I don’t have any unaccounted money.

My family leads a thrifty and austere life.

We use our debit card and even net banking facility to make payments and buy the essentials such as groceries.

And, many shopping establishments started accepting cards even for small payments in the post-demonetization announcement.

However, things are not as simple as they are in case of the others. The people in rural areas and even many of the urban dwellers don’t use plastic money, and banking habit is yet to trickle down to the masses.

The demonetization is a very courageous decision taken by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi because it is extremely difficult to fight against corruption and black money in our country as it is deeply rooted in our public psyche. There are many who are accusing the government of not properly planning the process thus putting the people to a lot of hardships. In saying so they conveniently forget the fact that India is a country of more than one billion population and even during normal times there are long queues at many offices.

Demonetization in a country like India is bound to create chaos irrespective of the arrangements the government makes. And the black money hoarders are very strong and influential people, who try to strike back against the government with a vengeance. That is what we are witnessing right now. There are many television channels who are trying to defeat this program by repeatedly flashing across the long queues in front of the banks and blowing the negative things out of proportion with an evil intention to stoke anger among the people. There are many anti-social elements who are working overnight to spread rumors and create unrest in the country.

This is the time for the people of the country to strongly support the Prime Minister’s efforts to eradicate black money and bring about transparency. If they take these temporary troubles seriously and fall into the trap of the unscrupulous elements, the country will never be able to get rid of the scourge of corruption, which has been eating into the vitals of the society. The soldiers of the nation are guarding the borders in the most hostile environment and making supreme sacrifices to protect the sovereignty of the nation. May be we can take cue from them and keep patience to sail through this situation. Then only the common man, whom all the wealthy elite derisively call ‘mango man’ or ‘cattle class’, will be able to regain his dignity.

four capitals

The Four Capital Stocks Of The Humanity.

stiglitz

Joseph E. Stiglitz (Image Source: http://cgt.columbia.edu/about/committee-faculty/joseph-e-stiglitz/)

Joseph Eugene Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning American economist, in his recently published book, “The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future” observed that any nation, if it wants its development to sustain in the long run, must achieve a harmonious development of all its four capital stocks namely, man-made capital, natural capital, human capital and social capital. Man-made capital in the sense that the capital we all are obsessed with – the production of all the material goods.

Our GDP is measured in terms of the value of all the goods and services produced in a financial year. An increase in the growth rate of the GDP, especially a double-digit growth rate, is considered to be a feather in any government’s cap. Economists, most of the time, speak about the measures that could be taken and the policies that could be formulated to push up the GDP growth figures. The entire world is obsessed with more investment, more production, more earnings and more consumption. In our blind pursuit of material things, we are not in a mood to spare a thought for the unsustainability of our pursuits.

The Four Capital Stocks Of The Humanity. Click To Tweet

We, the people, in our obsession with man-made capital, are overlooking or completely ignoring the other three capitals, i.e. natural capital, human capital and social capital. Our natural capital is in dire straits. Our natural resources like water, air, soil and forests are either getting depleted at an alarmingly rapid pace or getting polluted.

Our human capital, which encompasses health and education, is completely commercialized. Qualitative health and educational services are inaccessible to the poor and middle-class people, and they are putting up with the mediocre services offered by the government-run hospitals and schools. There is no effort that is being made to improve the quality of the services and bring accountability within the government servants. The unaffordability of quality health care and educational services is making a dent in the quality of the human resources. As far as social capital is concerned, the mutual distrust among different social groups, especially religious groups, has vitiated the social fabric of the world and acquired the status of a ticking time bomb. The apocalyptic Islamic terror is threatening the very existence of humankind.

Now is the time for the humanity to stop and take notice of the impending dangers and take corrective measures on a war-footing, to ensure that this world  will remain conducive even for the future generations to live in a peaceful and harmonious manner.