Friday, August 1, 2014

Economic Jugglery sans Compassion

This is a tiny article that I wrote for the Assisi Magazine of August 2014 & published (translated into Malayalam). 

Even if you can never for real quantify happiness and satisfaction as exactly as you could quantify GNP, is it not better to be vaguely right than incisively wrong?
My apologies to you who may be reading this if you felt that this question was directed at you. No, certainly not, this is what I would ask the economist Dr.Chakravathy Rangarajan who brought out the startling and enlightening report on the poverty level of the population of this country. Startling more than enlightening, because this wisdom comes from a person who possesses scholarly pedagogy in economics and social awareness as the economic adviser to the Prime minister!

He was large hearted in the sense that he rubbished the findings of the Suresh Tendulkar committee report on poverty level. Besides that he added eleven and fourteen Rupees to the findings of Suresh Tendulkar and, Ureka the new threshold for graduating from below poverty levels to richness was determined. If you live in a mountain hamlet in the country, like Attapadi you are not poor if you spend Rs 33 a day, because those of you who spend more than that tier must be living like a prince; if you spend Rs 47 a day on living  in Lutyens Delhi , behold you are a prince too.
I’m not an economist and those of you who may read this are not either. Hence we are not in a position of command to criticise Dr.Rangarajan’s findings and in the bargain make ourselves look like nincompoops. But yet, erudition in economics and financial matters are not necessary to become alarmed at the assertion of Dr. Rangarajan and his defence of his discovery.
It is cruelly amazing that the Rangarajan report audaciously seems to claim that man lives by bread alone. This is if you or I can conjure to buy food in Attapadi or Delhi and live through a day with Rs 33 and Rs 47 respectively. Well, presuming that we succeed in the sorcery, mind you we may have to live like early cave men - without a string of loin cloth around our waist and in sewage canals with overhead shelter or inside discarded giant water pipes that are commonly seen by the wayside. You are in for impossible jugglery and Houdini act if you have a spouse and two kids. Assuming that your spouse too has earnings of the threshold sum, ie Rs 47 and Rs 33 respectively, depending upon where you live, you still have two more mouths to feed – your two children. Dr. Rangarajan is somewhat ambiguous here. He expects all of you to be a juggernaut like he.
Dr. Rangrajan reacted to the criticism of his determination and said. “I don’t think that it is conservative (poverty) estimates. In my view it is reasonable estimates. We have derived poverty estimates independently.” Elaborating further he said, “The World Bank also talks about purchasing power parity terms, (the minimum expenditure per day). They are talking about USD 2 per day….. Therefore it (our poverty estimates) is in keeping with the international standards”.  This seems to be an entendre. In the same breath he quotes the WB figure of USD 2 , which translates to INR 120 or thereabout and pegs his poverty threshold at Rs 32 and Rs 47.

Let me come to the direct question to the renowned former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, a question that any commoner will ask. “Can you Sir, if put in a hypothetical situation sustain a family of four including yourself with Rs 47 earnings a day in Mumbai where you lived and worked as the Governor of the RBI?”  One doesn’t have to own a doctoral thesis in Economics and finance to know that there are other things to sustain one self and one’s family besides the barest minimum of a daily square meal. Clothing and shelter; basic medical care; education for one’s children and last if not the least a provision for the rainy day. Am I being saturnine in my comments, pardon me for I cannot help sounding otherwise.
We must extrapolate the findings of Dr.Rangarajan with utterings on similar lines by some political bigwigs, of which one gentleman possessed a plethora of suffix in degree and doctoral thesis after his name, a person nonpareil.
George Bush Jr observed that the food crisis is largely due to countries like India where people have begun eating meat and exotic foods. He was alluding that the miserable Indians have long last found blithe in economic development and gained the resources to eat luxuriously. What would you say if someone who missed the Prime Ministerial chair by a wide distance, Rahul Gandhi blathering that, “Poverty is a state of the mind”? Meaning poverty is illusion or a hallucination. Who seemed hallucinated is worth laughing about if not scorning about. But then how could we forget about the former Prime minister and Doctor of Economics Manamohan Singh who was nonchalant and callous about tons of food grains rotting in FCI warehouse? What was the psyche of these men when they observed as they did, did they believe themselves to be paragons of frankness or did they consider the fact even remotely that their observations where the most of the irresponsible and cruel kind?
Dr.Rangarajan  need not measure the density of happiness or the scale of satisfaction in the commoners face , he need not bench mark gross national happiness instead of GNP. All that he and men who juggle with the economic livelihood of multitude of Indians need to do is only to show an iota, a fair amount of respect and appreciate that there is something called dignity even in a beaten man. And to extrapolate fantastic economic theories and determinations with poverty line bench marks as he has done is simply cruel and breathe of disdain. We do not deserve that. Do we?

Dr. Rangarajan’s poverty line threshold reminds me of William Shakespeare  quote in Julius Caesar, “The most unkindest cut of all”.


Insignia said...

An excellent piece of article Anil. Loved the way you put your argument without blabbering confusing statistics and unwanted numbers.

The grains being rotten in warehouses, sugar being wasted and exported at lower rate than the rate at which it was imported is all well known. What was done about it? Nothing!

The Bush Jr. quote is absolutely ridiculous! Lets discount him. Not worth any discussion.

The Rs 47 is just as careless as this. How the hell do they arrive the figure at? 3 cups of tea is all that you can get with 47 Rs. These so called economic pundits either live in a another world of fantasy or just use their hypothesis and statistics to arrive at such ridiculous conclusions

Usha Menon said...

Good -post. It should be an eye opener for the authorities who matter.

rudraprayaga said...

"O!God,even you don't know on what criterion,they have arrived at this statistics.Even if it is for each member of a family say Rs.132.00(four members) and
Rs. 188.oo is not enough for a family to meet the basic requirements like food, vessels,cloth,toiletries,light, water,study needs, illness treatment and so on, leave aside small scale gifts,outside food, entertainments,functions etc.

The statisticians and ecnmics may be thinking that five fingers are not alike and so let them be so.But the intensity of variation in fiscal strength between haves and have-nots is like the Himalayas and the valleys.

A very useful article touching all the corners of the paucity of under-privileged.Well-said, Anil,though you claim that you aren't an economist.

Locomente said...

People in power are crazy. I dont really know what happens to them. And, all these statistics is startling. Somethings are better as theory.

And, "poverty is a state of mind?" whom are they fooling?

I liked your closing Shakespearean quote.

A very strong article.

Happy Kitten said...

Here lies the story of two Indians who tried living with 100 rs per day.

May each one of our policy makers be forced to undertake a similar exercise before uttering idiocies.