India’s growth story has failed to percolate down the layers of the society. To ensure citizen’s empowerment the leadership needs to invest in a more engaged effort.)
Adam Smith was a moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. He is best known for his second seminal book: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which strongly emphasizes on the role of ‘self-interest’ and religiously (read wrongly) taken by the believers of free enterprises as the capitalist scripture.
This has been in practice with overlooking his much humane earlier work The Theory of Moral Sentiments—where he defined "mutual sympathy" as the basis of moral sentiments (the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another being).
This he had written about seventeen years before, his magnum opus permanently stuck to the mind and soul of European intelligentsia and later crossing the geographical boundaries. So, still a better part of capitalist ideas remains seriously compromised.
The opposite school—Marx’s ideas hold that “human societies progress through class struggle: a conflict between an ownership class that controls production and a proletariat that provides the labour for production”—here the argument is sharp and firm.
But looking into the context of India’s poverty debate (surprisingly which is in limelight just after a month, when Jean Dreze had shared his concern for lowering footfalls from the policy circle on poverty issues) —it appears that more than the confrontation of ideologies and adding enlightened partitions, the poor need the merit of both capitalism and socialism working genuinely in their favour.
After all, the ideological convictions shaped during the 18th and 19th centuries too need some brushing up now—even the staunchest Marxist scholar like Prabhat Patnaik doesn’t deny it. However, they require to be understood through the complex interface of Indian democracy and economic reform, which essentially walks on a non-linear path.
It is already in reckoning of many of us that the key characteristic of a democracy rests on electoral contest. More than any other democratic processes—election and subsequently formation of the government shapes the turnouts of policy debates.
Nevertheless, this is high time, when the Indian government should officially declare macro-economic policies out from the rigid purview of non-resident economists, who are more political than the obvious political tribes of Central Delhi and have in fact no or shrugged opinion on most of the pertinent matters.
The ongoing trash debates between Amartya Sen and Arvind Panagariya shows the frivolous determination of these two top placed economists for real causes haunting a large number of Indian populations. This started with a review of Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze’s An Uncertain Glory: Indiaand its Contradictions, in The Economist.
The piece published in the magazine said that this book has greater relevance than Bhagwati and Panagariya’s latest book in advocacy of market linked reform (also for ‘market linked politics’ that later substantiated in interviews/numerous articles by Panagariya) Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries.
The debate went awful when Bhagwati took Sen and Dréze much lightly than they are. In reciprocation, Sen reminded everyone his old love (not in public memory) for growth although that should be packaged with heavy public expenditure for making it ‘notionally inclusive’.
Later, they both added their views on an ideal candidate for the next PM in Delhi and rims of paper were wasted in support of their PR affairs by India’s faithful mainstream media.
Shaped in the culture of non-reading and bandwagon effect, most of the top brass of the fourth estate has written about the spat of Sen and Panagariya and only few have actually remembered the national sample survey organization’s (NSSO) recent unbelievable dossier, asserting in a worst economic phase India has been able to slide almost 2% poverty annually in last eight years.
These NSSO figures, calculated according to the Tendulkar methodology, reveal that poverty levels in India had reduced by 15 percentage points, from 37 percent to 22 percent between 2004-05 and 2011-12.
According to the data, the total number of people below the poverty line in the country is 26.89 crore as against 40.73 crore in 2004-05. The national poverty line was estimated by Planning Commission at Rs. 33.33 in cities and Rs. 27.20 in villages per day per person.
This was brainstorming for thinking people and those chosen not to think too doubted these numbers. This is acceptable that over the last two decades of reform have changed the course of Indian economy—some for good reasons. However, as a rising economy, Indians should not be complacent with rise of fortunes of a segment of population.
Through popular yardsticks—it is impossible to judge the actual numbers of poor in this country. Though lately, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahulwalia has also shown his differences with NSSO’s data, prepared by an expert panel. In his opinion, the actual data would be much different, when the poverty measurement would take place in absolute terms.
These data will appear even more unreal if given little more thought on ‘relative deprivation quotient’. The growth, sans equity is a ground reality in India. Public expenditure alone cannot ensure inclusive growth—the citizen’s empowerment would take much more engaged effort than the leadership is intent to lend on this as of now.
In the meantime, the poor debates on politics and economics will not halt for sure!
Atul K Thakur
(Published in Governance now on August12,2013)