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Re: India need not live with poverty



Shri Sabhlok,
     I appreciate your open invitation for critiques on your
negative IT policy proposal. I respect the zeal with which you
have attempted to go into the various aspects of the policy and
am responding after considerable deliberation.
     As I went through the document (I couldn't see the quantitative
preliminary analysis since I don't have Excel) I was tempted and I
started to respond to it point by point. However, something about  the
whole idea troubled me, and it got pregressively worse as I read further.
Then I realized that the basic premise of the solution was being left 
unexamined. The underpinning of the proposal is that handing out a certain
amount of cash to those below the poverty line will eradicate poverty and
create a more-or-less level playing field for the whole society enabling
it to gainfully face the rigours of free market capitalism that will make 
life better for everyone except the tardy and the slothful. I am not
convinced and I question that axiom.
     Is it possible (or even conceivable) for a people to shake off the
crushing weight of history and the internalised oppression that has been
pinning them down for so long with the receipt of some cash? especially
a paltry sum of money, be it Rs650, Rs1000 or Rs500 per head per year for
a few years? Yes, some of them maybe pushed above that sacred horizontal
virtual line purely based on that extra cash income. Can a few hundreds
or even thousands provide the foothold for them to stay above that line
and not slip even deeper into poverty? Can they really escape poverty 
without removing the institutionalised chains and barriers and the 
gross inequalities of opportunities and access to productive resources 
that are entrenched in our society? I am afraid that Rs650/per capita/pa 
for a few years will not impart the boost required to attain that escape
velocity (excuse my metphor, but that's what came to my mind while reading
the proposal). Is this all we need to or can do to empower the poor to
break out of their debilitating condition?
    It almost looks like to me that this exercise is being undertaken 
to meet a contitutional obligation rather than address the issues of
endemic poverty in our society. There is a serious problem with this
focus on constitutional commitment; if this attempt also fails (which
it is bound to, IMHO), the people committed to discharging the constitutional
duties will throw up their hands and claim that the poor cannot be helped
and we should ignore or amend away this particular provision in that 
document so that it does not stick out as a sore thumb in the face of
the non-poor of India.
   I am disappointed by the way you brush aside "the differences in
knowledge and opportunity set" under the section 'Rationality and 
the Misuse of Cash Grants'. These are the very reasons for the 
perpetuation of poverty. The rationality of the poor, firmly 
embedded in their particular circumstances, produces behaviour 
that we term "sub-optimal" even though it is quite optimal to them.
It is their optimising behaviour that induced them to have more 
children. It is their judgement of the value of money that made
them part with the rupees, which you rightly point out have 
much higher marginal utility to them, to watch the mortal deities 
(NTR,MGR, Raj Kapoor et al) on the flimsy screen or to consume 
toxic hooch. Who are we to judge them to be misuses of cash and
time when we eat at restaurants and stare at TV images that fail
to move us instead of buying books written by a Tibor Scitovsky,
Rajni Kothari or Joel Cohen and reading them, or dwelling upon 
the causes and consequences of global warming and nuclear
proliferation?
    Can the efficient infusion of some cash for a few years into
the ailing body politic cure a serious social ill? I don't think so.
Tejus
Sender: owner-india_policy@cinenet.net
Precedence: bulk
Reply-To: debate@indiapolicy.org

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"If the only tool you have is a hammer, 
every problem will look like a nail."

Even if the nail is larger than the hammer?!
     
 





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