Market Watch : Graffiti Wall

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Test Cricket and India : Cartoon Tota – Myna

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Crony capitalism? : Cartoon Tota-Myna

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Monkey business : Cartoon Tota-Myna

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Distrustful Times : The Great Wall of graffiti

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Cleaning out Ganga : Cartoon Tota-Myna

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The Poor today : Sharp Reminder

 

The Poor and the Middle Class    

                                               masses

Do the poor want doles? Of course they do; these mitigate their misery a bit. Are they happy with doles? Of course not.                                          

Lately an idea is being repeatedly broadcast that the so-called social expenditure in government budgets is a waste and actually a drag on something Orwellian called “the economy”. Is it true? Of course yes – the drag part. But a subliminal message is also being planted – as happens in ads – that the poor are being plain awkward and irresponsible by holding back that same economy from reaching super-power heights; that they are anti-growth and therefore somehow unpatriotic.

If seths and tycoons are harbouring such thoughts it is understandable. In their eyes they are the economy and (happy about their doles) any moneys not coming their way is a loss to them. Seths were always of this mind. But lately the business intelligentsia is also investing in this ideology of Indian Tea Party capitalism inspired by rootless economists like Bhagwati, Panghariya, and their non-NRI cousins, led by the MBA cohorts, and fed by daily doses by pink newspapers and business TV channels.

A sharp reminder is therefore necessary.

The poor did not choose to be poor. They too want Audis, Antillas, and Armanis. Not only now, but always did. They have been made poor against their most fervent endeavours. Why? Because all the development models have not worked for them. Nehru`s, Indira Gandhi`s, Vajpayee`s, Manmohan-Sonia`s, and Modi`s(actually Manmohan`s, with hindutva packaging). All. The “economy” has failed them consistently before and after 1947. They just could not get rich despite working very hard indeed. That is why they accept and expect doles – to survive, and maybe fight another day. Governments pay doles and subsidies as guilt money.

There is an institutional side to this too. While giving to Indian government in 1991 the Structural Adjustment loan the IMF, with wide experience in the “economies” of the developing world, asked the government to be prudent and provide social “safety nets” in the economy lest the poor start smashing into the living rooms of the rich. Wise words. They were heeded. Hence the subsidies.

There is also a global dimension to this. Beginning with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1989 – the last no doubt tarnished and half-fledged hope of the world`s poor, but hope nonetheless – the middle classes of the world have started moving rightward, i.e. towards the seths and oligarchs. Russia, ex-Soviet Union nations, ex-Yugoslavian nations, China, India, Thailand, South Africa, Ukraine, Egypt … the same broad script is being played. There is a rising impatience with if not rejection of things like poverty, rule of law, parliaments, and even democracy itself. Having dumped the poor because of socialism`s failure, the middle classes are rushing to the oligarchian arcadias and devil take the hindmost. In India it is early days yet.

Finally there is a stark side to this reminder too. What is the ultimate minimum economic function of the poor? They absorb inflation ( by perishing ) and thus keep the prices down. They enable the middle classes to thereby stay in the middle ground. If the poor one day vanished, by policy or by neutron bombs, the middle classes will have to take their place instead. The MBA executives will have to stop over before and after working hours at their employers` homes and do many chores besides mopping floors, doing the dishes and the clothes, minding the children and pets and gardens, etc; and at the same time hamburgers will cost Rs.5000 each. The process has begun already.

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