India Uncut

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Sunday, February 06, 2005

In the clutches of the jholawalas

Tavleen Singh is disappointed to to see that after decades of backwardness, India is still "in the clutches of a group of jholawala economists of exactly the kind who made us a poor, rich country in the first place." In a piece titled "Why we are a poor rich country", she complains about the glorification of poverty that these misguided socialists do, and points out how it's costing our country. She writes:
In the ’60s and ’70s, this genre of economist was the only kind around in Delhi’s corridors of power because it was a time when we revelled in our poverty. Between Gandhiji and Soviet-style socialism we had learned to glorify poverty and see it almost as being somehow closer to God ...

... As someone who has travelled in the poorest parts of our country and seen poverty in all its hideousness, any glorification of it sickens me. Jean Dreze, one of Sonia’s new best friends, may think he shows his depth of character, or perhaps concern, by living in a slum. I see it only as a mockery of those who would give anything not to have to live in such appalling conditions. Unlike Dreze, I would like in my lifetime to see an India in which every Indian lives in a proper house with electricity and running water and perhaps even a fridge, air-conditioning and colour television.

Dreze expemplifies a category of 'intellectuals' who go out of their way to show their concern for the poor but whose policy recommendations do the poor more harm than good. They take great pride in their bleeding hearts, and rail against capitalism because it is fashionable to do so, without accepting the evidence that only free markets can lift a country out of poverty. (For more of my thoughts on this subject, click here and here.)

Singh does not merely rage against the policies of Sonia Gandhi, but identifies the problems and suggests a solution. She writes:
[Gandhi and her advisors] appear unaware that the problem is not money. The problem is that the delivery system in most parts of rural India is in such a state of collapse that it does not function properly even in an emergency. The fact that in some parts of India children die everyday of chronic hunger is proof of this.

The problem is mismanaged resources on a scale so horrific that it boggles the mind. Since local politicians make most of their illicit money out of construction, you will see almost not a single village that does not have a building that calls itself a health sub-centre but equally you will find it hard to discover one that actually works. I have seen vast, rural hospitals that are totally useless because there are no doctors and no proper facilities. I have seen maternity wards so unsanitary that if I were a rural woman I would prefer to have my baby at home.

If Sonia is serious about bringing about changes in this abysmal, shaming state of affairs then she should set her National Advisory Council the task of devising ways to take the present delivery systems for health, education and nutrition apart and rebuild them from scratch.

I agree with Singh's diagnosis, but I fear the treatment she recommends is hardly better than the one the poor patient is already getting. Advisory councils and governments do not hold the solution to such problems, citizens themselves do. And they can only be empowered, and enriched, by an open economy, one that gives them choices and opportunities that do not exist now. In the last decade we have managed to peep out of the jhola; now we must break free.
amit varma, 4:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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