Let’s put the question point blank. Where are the farmers, villagers and urban poor in the great economy debate? They are, according to some, the biggest drag on the country’s growth. They survive on the government’s largesse and like rats which chew away food grain in warehouses, are freeloaders of the worst kind. They are also, unfortunately, the biggest chunk of the population. They drive politics and policies of the country on the strength of their sheer numbers.
Here’s the other side. The Sensex behaves like a neurotic person given to vicious mood swings. And the media catch every mood in meticulous detail. What follows is analysis overkill and articulation of doomsday scenarios or discovery of the fount of hope by experts. When a global rating agencies downgrade the country’s creditworthiness or a foreign magazine comes up with the scathing criticism of India’s economy, the chattering class—television has helped a section of it to graduate into the barking class now—go into a frenzy.
Well-dressed, English-speaking men keep reminding the nation that subsidies for the poor are bad. Schemes such the NREGA are a waste of public money. These are ruinous for the economic health of the country. Polished, measured voices from everywhere tell us that there’s no hope without FDIs and reforms. When the RBI governor refuses to cut rates citing inflation, there’s a collective sigh of disappointment from the business class. The reaction follows the similar pattern when political parties stall bills that certain sections believe could usher in progress.
The point of the article is not to dispute what the experts and analysts say. Given their knowledge of the subject, they are the best placed to interpret the infirmities in the economy and offer solutions. And, of course, there is no reason to doubt their concern for the country. But what is disconcerting about the great economy debate is the overwhelming absence of the ‘other’ view.
It is difficult to miss the class bias such debates across the media. The people analysing and dissecting the economy are drawn from the urban upper middle class or the rich. They include representatives from the business sector and professionals who benefit from the sectors which prosper most when the economy does well. Thus it is not surprising that their opinions on the economy converge at some level and one rarely finds a radically different or original view originating from this section. We can call it the convergence of common self-interest.
The compulsive obsessive argument from this section is the government must devote its energies to helping the private sector generate wealth. The wealth will seep down to people automatically. The argument makes no secret of its hatred for subsidies and welfare programmes for the poor and believes money spent on these heads are a drain on the exchequer and thus wasteful expenditure. The argument has a strong theoretical basis. But like all economic theories it fails to provide a comprehensive solution.
That brings us to the poor or those presumed to be poor. Where are the representatives of farmers, artisans and people from the vast unorganised sector when the debates take place? How come the media never feel they are a part of the economy too and their points of view need to taken into account if we are serious about making the economy more inclusive?
It is curious that the agriculture sector is hardly discussed anywhere. It is forgotten that it is the most crucial cog in the economy. It is common knowledge that agricultural output of a country must be above subsistence level to encourage growth in other sectors. Without it there would be no surplus labour, no saving and no food to keep workers in other sectors active. More disposable income in this sector means more demand for manufactured goods and services, and finally more industrial activity.
The negative impact of schemes like NREGA are discussed threadbare but why cannot the section dominating the media discuss its numerous benefits and flaws too? Obviously, they are not sexy subjects. The people they deal with are not sexy enough too. People in businesses are smarter and better, good for the television.
Again, this economic view is another way of looking at things and it may not be the complete solution to what the country’s needs. But why are the media reluctant to bring on board this view too? It cannot expect governments to be prejudicial to one single class while framing policies.
It’s time to introspect.