India Uncut

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Friday, November 25, 2005

The best livelihood available

Sanjeev Naik points me to a piece by Amelia Gentleman in the International Herald Tribune that speaks about the plans of the West Bengal government to ban hand-pulled rickshaws. Gentleman writes:
The mayor describes the job as "despicable"; the chief minister of the state of West Bengal, a Marxist, says it is "barbaric." City officials point out that hand-pulled rickshaws are a colonial anachronism that have been outlawed almost everywhere else in the world and argue that it is an "abuse of human rights" to allow these "human horses" to continue working.
Well, I agree with their description, but not with their prescription, which will put an estimated 18000 men out of work. These rickshaw pullers do the job they do not out of coercion, because someone puts a gun to their head and forces them to pull a rickshaw, but because out of all the options available to them, this is the one they like most. In other words, if they were not allowed to work this way, they would be doing something they consider more "despicable," more "barbaric," even more of an "abuse of human rights."

Gentleman quotes a rickshaw puller named Mohammed Nasim as saying:
I don't feel any indignity. If I wasn't pulling a rickshaw, then I'd have to work in a hotel, or start collecting up rubbish. I think rickshaw pulling is a better job.
Now, shouldn't the choice be his to make?

So what is the correct prescription then? Clearly, to offer these people better options of livelihood, enough of them, so that they can move on to better jobs. The government cannot create these jobs, but it can enable their creation. It can do this by removing all the impediments it puts in front of entrepreneurs and businessmen, and by abolishing the license and inspector raj. The more enterprise you have, the more jobs you will create, and the more options rickshaw pullers will have. (I'd earlier written on these impediments over here.)

If we want people to move up in life, there is only way to do so: to increase their choices. What the West Bengal government is proposing to do will diminish the choices of the people concerned. Bad move.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 12:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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