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.

A Victory for Corporate Hindutva.

As the Gujarat election results unfold, it appears that the Corporate Hindutva represented by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, once again prevails albeit with a largely reduced majority.

For a short while, for those who were watching live results, it appeared that the Congress, led by the scion of the Gandhi dynasty, may pull off a surprise victory. And the seemingly astounding turnaround for Congress, albeit short-lived, sent chills down the spines of our casino capitalists, as the benchmark in‘dice’ in the Bombay ‘casino’, which of late has been mirroring the Corporate Hindutva sentiment, was understandably down by over 700 points in the morning trade before rebounding as the clearer picture started emerging. And the dynasty loyalists, who were present in the television studios, started indulging in a premature celebration blissfully ignoring the fact that the initial trend may not be sustainable.

I, being a common man, am concerned about the plight of my fellow commoners. For them, neither the BJP nor the Congress is good because one represents Corporate Hindutva, which only makes the lives of the poor and marginalized more miserable, and the other represents corruption and casteism, which eat into the vitals of the society. Then what is the alternative? The third front? It is only a delusion and in all probability may not materialize. So these elections only made me uninterested and unexcited.

Now, what will happen? The dynasty scion, who became the president of the congressCongressnly days ago may face some heat from the disgruntled party men for not being able to capitalize on the vulnerabilities of the BJP, especially after it botched up demonetization and the implementation of the GST. And Modi, emboldened by this victory, will definitely pursue his neo-liberal policies with increased vigor and intensify his efforts to deregulate with an avowed intention to make the lives of his corporate cronies easy as part of his ‘ease of doing business’ mission. If he doesn’t do that he may not be able to mobilize enough ‘anonymous’ corporate donations for his 2019 campaign. Therefore, this result will only pave way for the institutionalization of the crony capitalism and its further entrenchment.

The reduced majority in Gujarat, in spite of it being a Hindutva laboratory and the inspiration for an economic model called ‘Gujarat model’ which is now being implemented all across the country, is truly ominous for Modi and his party. The BJP, though managed to score impressive wins in urban centers appeared to have faltered in the rural areas, where the agrarian distress is running rampant.

As far as the congress party is concerned it had better get rid of the dynasty and bring an able leader to the forefront who can compete with Modi. As long as Rahul Gandhi leads the party the binary between Rahul and Modi will always work to the advantage of Modi. The problem with the congressmen is though many of them are able leaders they deliberately disable themselves and prostrate before the dynasty in the belief that only they have the capability to bring the party to power.

These elections, in a way, deliver an important message. That is, the people, in the absence of a credible alternative that has the capability and willingness to take care of the interests of the poor and the marginalized, opted for a seemingly lesser evil. They also appeared to have swayed by the Prime Minister’s scare tactics, which he executed with a poll rhetoric that is laced with communal overtones.

In an essence elections in India are increasingly making the words of Karl Marx a reality. He once stated, “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” People don’t have any other way except choosing between Modi and Rahul and they have to put up with them till an alternative emerges.

Shallow talk that signifies nothing to a commoner

Being a common man, I’m always on the lookout for bread and butter related news items in the newspapers. If you have closely been following the newspapers for some time, the most important items that pertain to the bread and butter issues of the common man are – ease of doing business index, global hunger index, Care Ratings report on employment generation, and the paradise papers. The politicians and big business tycoons are euphoric on the improvement in India’s ease of doing business ranking. At the same time, the global hunger index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which placed India at 100th position among the 119 countries, had thoroughly exposed the shallowness of the so-called development and had placed India even behind North Korea and Iraq. Worse still, a starvation death of a child in Jharkhand had put the entire nation to a discomfiture. These two incidents are a slap in the face of the rulers who are trying to hard sell the neo liberal agenda by diverting the attention of the people from the pressing bread and butter and societal problems onto the useless issues such as cows, temples, statues and patriotism just to garner some votes.
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The eggheaded economists, through their esoteric and jargon-laden talks and statements, make us believe that the ease of doing business attracts more investment that leads to more growth, which in turn results in trickle-down effect that will ultimately drive away poverty. They also say that economic growth, invariably generates more employment opportunities to the aspiring youth. As if to debunk all their myth-laden talk, a domestic rating agency called Care Ratings has brought out a report, in which it stated that employment growth has not kept pace with the GDP growth, junking the claim that there is a positive correlation between growth and employment. So the hunger index and Care Ratings report have not only conclusively invalidated the false claims that investment and growth generate opportunities and lead to a trickle-down. They also firmly established the truth that capitalist greed does not allow anything to trickle down. Trickle-down does not work because a rich man’s cup, instead of overflowing, keeps ever growing in size negating any possibility of the said effect. Therefore, growth led employment is a pure myth. Our politicians are very well aware of the fact that in a land that is full of mythology peddling myths is very easy.

Then came the explosive leak of tax documents: the paradise papers, which revealed that India is in 19th position in terms of the number of names appeared in the papers. Nineteenth rank is a very good rank indeed in a seemingly rank obsessed country, but unfortunately there is nothing great to feel proud of. Most of the people who featured in these papers are politicians, business tycoons and other celebrities, including Neira Radia, the notorious corporate lobbyist who came into the limelight with the infamous ‘Radia tapes’, which exposed the unholy corporate-media-politician nexus. The Paradise and Panama papers are significant as they unearth some vital information, which the crony-capitalism infested governments are highly reluctant to unveil in the apprehension that they may lose corporate funding to their political campaigns. They throw stoplight on the magnitude of tax evasion that is prevalent in our society and the propensity of the rich to stash their wealth in offshore tax havens.

The enormous wealth that is being created by using the societal resources is being stashed away abroad to avoid taxes. When the wealth gets stashed away abroad how will the much touted ‘trickle down’ become a reality?

All these indexes and revelations point to something ominous. During the demonetization drive the commoners had gone through the untold misery standing in serpentine queues, where some even breathed their last, even while the rich continued to bask in their aura unmindful of the cash crunch. Many opinion makers expected large scale violence and chaos all over the country. But nothing of that sort happened just because the commoners were optimistic that the black money would be unearthed and their lives would be better off. Things, however did not happen as expected. If we assume that the demonetization is a kind of trial by fire (Agnipareeksha) for the tax evaders, they all emerged pure out of it. All the politicians, business tycoons, bureaucrats and celebs got the gold standard ratings and nothing came out of the gargantuan exercise. In the end the only beneficiaries of this exercise appear to be the Visa, MasterCard, and Amex, which are the offspring of the Uncle Sam, with whom our rulers are trying to forge a strong ‘strategic’ alliance. Of course, our own Paytm also derived benefit.

When netas do something for the sake of self-promotion with an intention to garner votes thereby win one more term, this is what exactly happens. Their real intention is only to create an impression that they are fighting against black money thereby play to the gallery of the poor and the lower middle class. They revealed their true colors when they relaxed conditions to facilitate unlimited and anonymous corporate funding to the political parties, which will surely provide mind and muscle to the Corporate Hindutva. In the end, all the black money talk proved to be a mere rhetoric and it took an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to unearth the subterranean dealings of the ultra-rich tax evaders.

Now what? No one speaks out now. They only constitute probes which are a mere eye wash. In an essence this is an effort to hijack democracy and replace it with an oligarchy constituting corporates and Hindutva leaders in an insidious manner. And the worst sufferers or all these misdeeds are the commoners, who, oblivious to the devious deals that are happening around them, stand in queues in front of the polling booths to cast their votes in the expectation that their lives will improve for good.

Vedas and Cronyism

Our ‘Parivar’ friends often say that ‘everything is there in our Vedas’. Some months ago, our ‘neta’, himself part of the ‘Parivar’, while inaugurating a hospital, stated that our ancients performed even head transplantations. The other day I got curious to know what is there in the Vedas and started exploring some literature on the scriptures. In their propensity to selectively quote only certain things from Hindu scriptural literature that seem to be beneficial to them, the members of Parivar often ignore to mention many other important things in our Vedas, and one of them is rampant cronyism.

In this twenty-first century if you want to grow, you need a patron. But it is not very easy to find a patron. For that you need to perform a ritual called ‘sacrifice’ to please your patron, which in turn sows the seeds of cronyism. In most of the cases the cronyism is a two-way thing, a quid pro quo. ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ style. If you feel that cronyism is only a twenty-first century phenomenon, you are thoroughly mistaken. It was there even in our revered Vedas.

There are countless hymns in the Rig Veda referring to the institution of sacrifice as a means of material exchange between the ruling Aryans and their gods. For instance, a hymn to a Vedic God Indra clearly refers to the system of exchange:

‘O Indra, drink this sacred Soma. Let the intoxicating soma juice give you ecstasy. Let it satisfy you by filling your belly. O Indra, we are intelligent…We are performing this sacrifice in the hope of getting rewards from you for our act. We are showering praises on you in order to be favored by you, and to be treated as fit objects for receiving wealth from you…O Indra, give us houses. Give us friends. Give us power like that of the wind gods. Do not bestow wealth on anyone before us. We, our sons and grandsons will continue to offer praises and prayers to you.’ (RV, 2/11/11-15)

It is very clear from the above hymn that Indra, one of Vedic Gods, was habituated to hedonistic life style. He relished the luscious horse and ox meet and Soma Rasa, and cherished the company of Apsaras. So the 3Ms – Madya, Mamsa and Maithuna were close to Indra’s heart. The Aryans, being aware of their God’s weaknesses, would supply an abundance of the 3Ms to Indra, and in return they would get him to bestow wealth on them and also destroy Asuras, their sworn enemies. After reading these hymns it struck me that the current day society is no different from the Vedic period except that the things that are offered as part of the sacrifices changed.

Assume that our modern day rulers are the very embodiment of ‘Indra’, the lords of the big capital are the ‘Aryans’ and all the underprivileged and voiceless working class are all the ‘Asuras’. Then what do our modern day Aryans and their Indras want? Indras no longer want the 3Ms as they are abundantly available and therefore lost their appeal as sacrificial offerings. Now they only want Singhasans and once they attain them they want to be glued to them for a long time. Now, it is a well-known fact that though the Aryans and Asuras co-exist in every country they always suspect each other. Ironically, in this sinful Kaliyuga the godly Aryans, instead of going down, have reached the commanding heights and marginalized the Asuras with the patronage of Indras.

Our own Aryans no longer want cattle and grains from our Indra, and they no longer want him to kill the Asuras with his thunderbolt. They want ‘ease of doing business’ in the form of bailouts, deregulation and tax cuts, and also want the social sector spending to be salami-sliced in the name of fiscal rectitude a.k.a austerity so that their sworn enemies don’t derive any benefit. To achieve their dream they carry out a sacrificial ritual, where they offer an unlimited amount of donations that too anonymously to help Indra run his political campaigns to hoodwink the Asuras through his rousing speeches and cleverly coined slogans. Because the Asuras, who assiduously queue up in front of polling booths for every five years have the capacity to upset Indra’s applecart. And Indra, pleased with the offering, grants them the ‘ease of doing business’. And when Indra does all these things, the trinity WB (World Bank), IMF (International Monetary Fund) and CRAs (Credit Rating Agencies), who are the custodians of the godly Aryans, grant boons to Indra in the form of rank increases and rating upgrades. And Indra basks in the glory of increased acceptance and starts aspiring for a ‘gold standard rating’, which will further undermine the status of Asuras. Meanwhile, the Asuras… I mean the working class, after toiling in factories, farms and offices, which is akin to the ‘Ksheera Sagara Madhanam’, feel fully tired and stay in the expectation that they would get their just share. However, they remain oblivious to the fact that the Supreme Personality of Godhead had distributed all the elixir only to the Aryans, thoroughly deceiving them.

Our astute Indra, sensing how the world runs, is busy trying hard to be in the good books of the Supreme Personality of Godhead of the capitalist world, who is none other than Uncle Sam. Because Uncle Sam is omnipresent and omniscient. He makes his presence felt through his numerous offspring – WB, IMF, MNCs, CRAs and many more. And he, along with his Zionist disciples, produces and disseminates the ‘Gyan’ through the Aryan-backed experts, media and universities. And the sages allegiant to the Godhead in the Silicon Valley are working hard to produce Internet of Things (IoT) enabled and Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered humanoids as part of their efforts to help the Aryans do ‘Pratisrushti’ so that they can permanently get rid of the menace of the Asuras and replace them with humanoid robots. Because the Aryans expect that once they get rid of the emotion-afflicted and union-infested Asuras, they can save further on their labour cost, which will enable them to indulge in shareholder wealth maximization. Thereafter, they can sell infinite quantities of sheaths, baby food packets and nappies to the humanoids, the only ‘people’ who will have purchasing power, from whose proceeds they can procure the things that are closest to their hearts – private jets, yachts and mansions… I mean ‘Antilias’.

In a way our own Indra got enlightened long ago and as a result he knows that his salvation lies in the holy precincts of the neo-liberal temple, where laissez faire-shaped Uncle Sam is the presiding deity. And all the Asuras, I mean the working class commoners, who are left patronless and voiceless, are doomed and appear to be destined to an eternal damnation.

But being an Asura myself, I somehow am optimistic that there will be a day when Indras won’t be able to hide behind their neoliberal peacock feathers and the Aryan ‘lords of big capital’, as a great philosopher had predicted, will end up digging their own grave.

References:

Jayantanuja, B. (2012). Class and Religion in Ancient India. 1st ed. Delhi: Anthem Press, pp.23-24.

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

Kancha Ilaiah has the right to freedom of expression.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd has emerged as the most prominent antagonist of the Hindutva forces in the country. Ilaiah, a political science professor, came into the limelight with his book “Why I Am Not a Hindu” and he has relentlessly been attacking anything and everything related to Hindu ever since. His latest book titled ‘Samajika Smuglarlu Komatollu’ has stirred the ‘Arya Vaishya’ community in the Telugu speaking states.

Though I haven’t read the book, I came to know that it critically scrutinizes the role played by “Arya Vaishyas” in the society. Vaishyas, a dominant caste and the third in the hierarchy of Hindu caste system, are a predominantly trading community and control a large part of the wholesale and retail trade, especially the essential commodities. Ilaiah alleges that the Vaishyas, who rarely produce anything, don’t make any positive contribution to society, and therefore the society can survive even without their presence. So Ilaiah, through his writings, wants to highlight the lack of positive contribution to society from certain castes.

It is a fact that in the Hindu society there are some castes which led a kind of parasitic lives for generations. Take the example of Brahmins. They were hardly involved in any productive activity and in fact, the role played by them is to a great extent negative. They, for generations, misled the society in the name of religion, introduced meaningless rituals, promoted superstitious beliefs and played a lead role in perpetuating caste discrimination. In an essence, they exploited the inherent sense of insecurity among the people to run their God business, which is a classic example of non-economic activity. Many Brahmins say that they were involved in spreading knowledge. But the question arises whether they have spread that knowledge among all the sections of society? They taught only Brahmins and Kshatriyas and made sure that they don’t impart any knowledge to Sudras and Dalits.

Being a community of shopkeepers, Vaishyas ran most of the wholesale and retail outlets in both urban and rural areas and their activities can’t be labeled as non-economic activities. However, even now people associate Vaishyas with excessive profiteering, usury and stashing of wealth. Therefore, they also played a largely negative role in the impoverished Indian society.

Even the other dominant castes such as Kamma and Reddy, who own disproportionately large tracts or land, have the history of perpetrating atrocities against Dalits. The massacres against Dalits in villages such as Neerukonda, Padirikuppam, Kanchikacharla, Karamchedu and Tsunduru are the testimony to the upper caster cruelty and arrogance.

The main intention of Ilaiah appears to be to attack the dominant castes in Hindu society and expose the negative role played by them. There is nothing wrong in questioning the discriminatory, exploitative and hegemonistic practices prevalent in the Hindu society. The Vaishyas, however, appear to have taken offense to Ilaiah’s writings and started a concerted campaign against him. They even accuse him of trying to promote Christianity.

If there is anybody who is promoting Christianity in a big way in India, it is the Hindu clergy and the caste Hindus. The clergy hardly mingles with Dalits and don’t hide their Brahmin bias. The caste Hindus are known for their discrimination and mistreatment of Dalits. It is a fact that Dalits are not in a position to lead a life of self-esteem as long as they are in Hindu fold. The caste system is so rigid that even after a Dalit converts to Christianity he is not treated on par with other Christians. A Brahmin Christian or a Reddy Christian looks down upon his Dalit Christian counterpart.

The Hindu caste system is such that it does not even allow the Dalits to stay united. For example, in the Telugu speaking states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, there is a feud between Mala and Madiga communities on the issue of sharing the fruits of reservation.

In spite of all these anomalies why caste system is still strong? As Dr. B. R. Ambedkar had rightly observed, the characteristic of graded inequality prevalent in Hinduism keeps caste system ticking in Hindu society. Except Dalits, all Hindu castes have someone or the other under them, whom they consider inferior to them, and therefore worthy of exploitation.

The fact of the matter is the caste system in Hinduism is a sinister arrangement, which is bent on dehumanizing Sudras and Dalits. The Swamijis and Hindutva organizations are only interests in perpetuating the evil system. Therefore, it becomes inevitable for the intellectuals to criticize the caste system and along with it the upper caste people, who perpetrated untold atrocities against Dalits.

The thing all the caste Hindus must understand is tribals, Dalits, and other backward caste people have a right to question the inherently inequitable and exploitative caste system and raise some pertinent issues with regard to the current status of the suppressed classes. Therefore, it is wrong on the part of the caste Hindus to issue death threats against the writers with an intention to suppress their freedom of expression. The Supreme Court has rightly refused to impose a ban on the book, and therefore upheld the freedom of expression.

The need of the hour, if Hinduism has to survive, is to introduce sweeping reforms in the Hindu way of life, especially destroying the caste system entirely to bring about equality and unity among all Hindus. Nothing less than a complete annihilation of caste and unequivocal condemnation of Brahminism will save Hinduism from complete extinction. Many people opine that Hinduism survived for millenniums and it will definitely survive for eternity. But that is not true. In this 21st century, equality is non-negotiable. If they have any doubts they can visit a Dalit hamlet and count the number of Hindus who haven’t yet converted to Christianity.

corruption

Now the Government Officials can Indulge in Corruption with Impunity.

If someone asks you, who are the blood sucking parasites that thrive on the poor people in the country, what would be your answer? Well, if you are well educated and has been closely observing the socio-economic and political affairs in the country, your answer could very well be – politicians, bureaucrats and big business tycoons. They are uncharged criminals, who are roaming freely leading luxurious lives and enjoying all the privileges at the expense of the ordinary people. Since the deadly trio have common interests and inextricably intertwined with each other, they always go hand in hand.

It is their constant and continuous endeavor to ceaselessly strengthen their position and power to safeguard their illegitimate interests. One of the classic examples of this behavior is the recent Rajasthan government’s ordinance to gag the press from reporting anything about the evil deeds of the bureaucrats until unless the government allows the case to be investigated. This is simply outrageous. The government officials in our country are notorious for their venality and close scrutiny of their activities by the press and the civil society is the only countervailing force to keep a tab on their corrupt activities. And now the Rajasthan government wants to scuttle this process to empower the government officials to go on a looting spree. This move is truly ominous and will give an added impetus to the already rampant corruption.

People dislodged the previous UPA government mainly because of its gargantuan corruption and misdeeds. The Modi-led BJP government, which appears to have not learnt any lessons from the UPA’s downfall, is quietly taking the crony capitalism to new heights by diverting the attention of the people on to the useless issues. Now the Rajasthan government, which is also run by the BJP, is paving way for the institutionalization of corruption. The people, however, appear to be oblivious to these evil and insidious moves. May be they are under the influence of the so-called magic spell cast by Modi, and therefore preoccupied with cows, statues, Ram Rajya, patriotism, nationalism, and most importantly the empty promises.

Yogi and cows

Yogi Puts ‘Gaus’ and Statues First and Humans Last.

Ancient wisdom says when a person’s ruin is impending he thinks in a foolish manner (Vinashakaale Vipareeta Buddhi). Some of the moves the BJP has been making for some time now give an impression that they are well on their way to commit a ‘hara-kiri’. Many political pundits say that the road to Delhi passes through Lucknow. Uttar Pradesh, being the most populous state, sends the maximum number of members to the parliament. In such a crucial state they installed a so-called ‘Yogi’, who is known for his loud-mouthed ravings, as the Chief Minister.

Ever since he took over the reins, the state has been constantly in the news mostly for the wrong reasons. In his excessive preoccupation with ‘Gauraksha’, he ignored the human lives in ‘Gaurakh’pur government hospital, and as a result, scores of children of poor parents (who are incidentally non-Gaus, and therefore, humans) suffocated to death due to lack of oxygen. He appears to have forgotten the fact that as a CM his first and foremost responsibility is towards the people, especially the poor and the downtrodden, who need the assistance of the government. He failed to protect the Dalits who have been under seize from the cow vigilantes run by the caste Hindus. He failed to provide succor to the poor when they needed medical help. This is the worst kind of failure on the part of the Yogi’s government.
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Now the far worse thing he and his cronies are planning to do is to construct a large statue of Lord Ram on the banks of river Sarayu, in the name of tourism promotion. They are gearing themselves up to splurge crores of rupees of tax payer’s money on the futile exercise of constructing a giant statue of Lord Ram. And they want to do this in the name of promoting tourism. If they are really interested in promoting tourism they would not have ignored the iconic Taj Mahal and removed it from a tourism booklet they published recently. Putting ‘Gaus’ and idols first and humans last appear to be the strategy adopted by the Yogi. This, however, is not surprising at all. When saffron clad clerics become rulers this is what exactly happens. They don’t have human welfare on their priority list. As they are obsessed with ‘Gaus’ and idols they are instinctively drawn towards them. Now, what will the deceived humans do to the ‘Yogi’ in the next elections? If they also put ‘Gaus’ and statues first and their bread and butter issues last, the Yogi will be able to successfully pave the way for Modi’s second term. Otherwise, he will definitely end up upsetting BJP’s applecart in the next general elections.

A Paradigm Shift in Workplace.

Steam engines, electricity, and computer-mediated communications technologies drove the first, second and third industrial revolutions, which progressively transformed the workplaces and radically altered our lives. However, irrespective of the magnitude of the technological evolution, machines always stayed imbecile and therefore required humans to instruct them and run them. But for the first time in human history, we are staring at the prospect of the emergence of cognitive machines that have the potential to edge out the humans entirely from the workplace.

Workplaces all over the world, whether they are manufacturing facilities or offices, are undergoing a makeover. Gone are the days when people would go to their workplaces punctually, get glued to their chairs or workstations throughout the day, and deal with the tasks that come their way. Now, people work by using ultra-portable computing devices, which provide them with always-on connectivity and enable them to work not only from their offices but even remotely. In manufacturing facilities, the robotic hands are executing most of the work very efficiently with few defects. The workplace transformation, which has already started, is going to reach new heights in the future.
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Some emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and augmented and virtual reality, which herald what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, are going to trigger a paradigm shift in the way people live and work. The kind of automation that is on the anvil now is qualitatively different from what we hitherto witnessed. The technology and the resultant gadgets we had till now proved to be mere dumb machines that required human intervention to function. In sharp contrast, the emerging technologies have the ability to create machines that have cognitive capabilities and even personalities and therefore have the potential to make humans obsolete. Because these precision engineered cognitive machines, which have deep learning abilities, are capable of making data-driven decisions and are more efficient and less prone to mistakes than their human counterparts.

In any free market economy, investors aim at profit maximization. The globalization empowered the US and Europe based multinational companies to offshore their jobs to developing countries with an aim to cut their labor costs. Now, to cut their costs further, they are planning to do away with employing humans in the workplace and replace them with robots. A study conducted by Deloitte found that while offshoring manufacturing jobs to low-cost economies can save up to 65% on labor costs, replacing human workers with robots can save up to 90% of these costs. Many experts predict that in future humans will be deployed only in those places where their presence is absolutely necessary. They also predict that there will be very less full-time employment and ‘gig economy’ will flourish, in other words, a multitude of freelancers wait online to grab ‘piece work’ opportunities where they are paid per task. The reputation engines enable the clients to rate the quality of the freelancers, which in turn empower the freelancers to build trust with them.

The likelihood of technology-induced job losses becoming a reality is causing a lot of anxiety among the people. Dell Technologies, in its recent study titled “’The Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships” observes that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t yet been invented and therefore the fear of job loss is unfounded. There are some others, especially some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, who advocate the introduction of Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a compensation for the impending job loss. The differing opinions make it obvious that people don’t have a clear idea about how the technology will affect the job prospects.

The advent of disruptive technologies is likely to bring about massive changes that too at a rapid pace. People, in order to keep themselves employable, have to learn new knowledge and acquire new skills ‘in the moment’ and technologies such as virtual and augmented reality may come in handy for them. Moreover, the current education system, which puts a lot of emphasis on filling children with knowledge rather than cultivating cognitive skills, requires immediate reform.

In near future, most of the repetitive tasks will be assigned to the machines and only those tasks that demand high level of creativity and cognitive capabilities will be assigned to humans. Since all the humans are not endowed with equally good creative capabilities, there may be many humans who will be left behind in this rat race and therefore may be deprived of a source to earn their livelihood. Since livelihood opportunities and social justice are paramount in any democratic society the very thought of people going jobless is difficult to digest.

History is replete with instances where more technology and more mechanization invariably strengthened the hands of the capitalist profit mongers and weakened the position of the workforce. As Karl Marx had rightly stated, “Machines were, it may be said, the weapon employed by the capitalist to quell the revolt of specialized labor”. Irrespective of the way the technologies and workplaces evolve, the governments all over the world have to formulate suitable policies to protect ‘human’ interests, not the ‘machine’ interests for when they protect the machine interests the ultimate beneficiaries will be the big business corporations who will own those machines.

The impending paradigm shift in the workplace necessitates the introduction of a new economic model. Otherwise, the people who will be wronged may get attracted either towards ultra-left or ultra-right, which will invariably give rise to many societal problems. The world has already witnessed this phenomenon in the form of the emergence of Donald Trump. Therefore, the world needs to build a new economic model, which will not only maximize the well-being of all the humans but also attracts them towards sustainable living. However, that is not very easy to achieve though not impossible. Because the free market capitalists, who have been enjoying their heyday ever since the emergence of the neo-liberalism, will not give up their powers and privileges so easily.

In India Public Health is Left to Private Vultures.

The legendary Telugu poet Gurajada Appa Rao famously proclaimed that a nation is not a piece of real estate but is a multitude of people. Now the question arises what kind of people make our nation strong and powerful? The obvious answer is only those people who are well educated, healthy and empowered, can build a strong nation.  The investment in health and education come under human capital and is vital for the healthy and equitable growth of any nation. In view of the vital importance of these two sectors, even the staunchly capitalist societies don’t leave them to capitalist profit mongers and take direct responsibility of providing these services to the needy. However, In India which is the home of teeming millions who are too poor, the government has renounced its responsibility of providing quality education and healthcare services to the people of the country. The private players are well entrenched in these two sectors and are fleecing the people with exorbitant fees.

The hospitals that are run by the government have turned into the virtual hellholes for the poor. It appears that Lord Yama, the Hindu God of death, has deployed all his “kinkaras’ only at the gates of government hospitals considering the demand the death has in those places. We are all well aware of the fact that death has been dancing ceaselessly in the government hospitals in Uttar Pradesh and the government-run hospitals in other parts of the country are no better. Most of the privately owned, so-called super specialty hospitals in the country charge exorbitant consultation fees and prescribe excessive pathology tests. The private healthcare sector spends a lot of money on advertising and marketing and this expenditure is finally imposed on patients. The corporate-friendly governments are highly reluctant to exercise any kind of control over these looters and remain as mute spectators letting them feely indulge in excessive profiteering.