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.
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.