March 29, 2011
These eight clear and incisive papers reinforce the author’s contention that economics needs to be shared with non-economists, so that we are not fooled by other economists. Bhaduri says it is the task of economics to call the bluff of those politicians who, having taken the credit for allegedly liberalising the Indian economy, then faced the opposite way when the inevitable crash occurred, claiming that they had protected the economy by not liberalising it too fast.
Those so-called leaders are trapped in a failed world view, according to which the uncontrolled market is self-regulating; but the point at which self-regulation can be evaluated for success or failure can never be specified and is indefinitely postponed. Furthermore, the market’s advocates are silent on the society the market creates; grotesque inequality, even enormous and worsening suffering, becomes just a market outcome. The Indian electorate gave its opinion on that in the 2004 general election, but the claims made for that kind of economy are disingenuous. Aggregate growth is proclaimed, but aggregate employment in the organised sector either shrinks or grows very slowly, which means that workers are sacked even as their productivity rises sharply. Bhaduri gives Tata and Bajaj plants as examples, but the point applies to the whole economy. In agriculture, higher output is the result of even greater exploitation than occurred earlier, as subcontracting spreads and working hours are lengthened. This is not growth but predatory growth.
In effect, the very term ‘development’ is being restricted to mean only the development of shopping-mall India, not the Other India, where over eight hundred million people have purchasing power of less than Rs.20 a day. Beautifying cities means dumping slum-dwellers in badly-built estates far from their previous homes, schools, shops, and places of work. Growth means throwing landless labourers off lands they have tilled for generations, because still-valid colonial legislation gives the state, and in particular the State governments, powers to annex land merely by declaring that the annexation is for a public purpose, without ever specifying, much less justifying, the purpose. In effect, the State governments rush to submit themselves to private corporations in what Bhaduri calls “competitive servitude”. But only poor people get thrown off the land, in a form of systematic caste-war; 40 per cent of those thus dispossessed are Dalits and adivasis. This is not development but developmental terrorism.
The market, then, is never left to itself. The state makes the rules on behalf of private corporations. Indian billionaires’ total wealth grew from $106 billion to $170 billion in 2006-07 alone; at times, a rise of one percentage point in GDP has meant an average rise of 2.5 per cent in corporate profits. Even the development of Indian technology is restricted by intellectual property rights regimes, which India accepts. So equipment and services have to be imported — against hard currency and at first-world prices. All political parties support this and can imagine nothing else, though they all talk of welfare spending at election time.
Meanwhile, nearly half of Indian children under the age of six are malnourished, and four-fifths are anaemic; and 40 per cent of adults suffer from chronic energy deficit. Luxury hospitals proliferate, while little or nothing goes into inexpensive methods for restricting malaria and tuberculosis, which are overwhelmingly diseases of the poor. In addition, worsening conditions for hundreds of millions of poorer people depress domestic markets; rises in aggregate economic figures result mainly from hugely expanded consumption by the rich.
It is well documented that the mass media all but ignore the poor and the systems which harm them most, but, in a paper co-authored with Medha Patkar, Bhaduri shows how the current public discourse itself limits our sense of terms like ‘growth’, ‘industrialisation’, and ‘development’, so that we retain only the conceptions thereof which the rich and the powerful want us to have. Bhaduri intriguingly reminds us of Wittgenstein’s caveats about being misled and trapped by language; in today’s India the result is the silent exclusion of hundreds of millions from the major processes of the polity. The modern ancestor of this kind of mind-control is Joseph Goebbels.
THE FACE YOU WERE AFRAID TO SEE — Essays on the Indian Economy: Amit Bhaduri; Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 250