Rambling

Recently, a friend of mine sent me a link : http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-12-18/india-sees-children-dying-as-2-billion-program-proves-defective#r=bloomberg. This article describes how 2 billion USD that India had allocated for malnutrition programs have essentially been flushed down the drain aka pockets of the rich businessmen. The article is a good read and provides a nice window to what actual journalism should look like — unlike the filth that TOI peddles as news (On that, see: [1] Tehelka, [2] Caravan: TOI “paid news”, [3] New Yorker on Samir Jain.). More than that however, it enforces an opinion that I have developed over time. Succinctly stated, it is as follows: In a functioning democracy, I’d rather trust the government than the corporations.

Let me qualify ‘functioning’.  By functioning, I mean a democracy that allows for freedom of speech through press, Internet and other related means; one that has a justice system that manages to get decisions right at least > 50% of the time; one that has free and fair elections where at least 2 parties with varying ideologies contest; and finally, one where every individual in the country, at least on paper has equal rights. By this measure, India is a barely functioning democracy (I am looking at you doddering justice system), and the US is not.

While the elections are supposedly ‘free and fair’ in America, the truth of how money can rig elections is amply demonstrated by the Bush elections (Florida counting debacles for example). The justice system seemingly works at a micro level, however, with an extremely biased supreme court, there isn’t equal rights for all, even on paper — think of the super PACs. What the supreme court has implicitly stated through the super PAC is that the rich can essentially shout out as loud as they want for the candidate they want, drowning out all of the other voices so that everyone votes for the person they want, who will in turn ensure that the rich get richer. If you’ve followed the recent Presidential elections, you’ll have noted the last-minute changes to voting norms that the various right-leaning states were attempting to push through, all of which would essentially disenfranchise the poor. The ruckus over voter IDs in the US was in itself an excellent demonstration of the fact that the rich will go to any lengths to protect themselves and their wealth. The recent haggling over the fiscal cliff is another such demonstration.

What does the US have to do with my stated position? Extreme capitalism, as is practiced in the US results in a steady dilution of the checks and balances that a state requires to keep man’s greed and income inequality under check. With each step that a country takes, all of the regulatory bodies that oversee corporate greed are either bought off, or done away all together (think of what the Republicans wanted to do with the EPA and you’ll get my point). In parallel, corporations take over media, either by outright ownership (Murdoch for eg.)  or by the route of advertising and revenue (a la “paid news”). With all dissenting voices silenced, the greedy are free to spread their wings and eat off much much more than they would ever need. Man, ever filled with greed, is never satisfied with simply fulfilling his needs.

I see India heading down the American path, and while I am not a big fan of uber-Government (a la the Emergency), I am not too sure that the American model is any indication of success. As P. Sainath demonstrates in this talk, the common measure of prosperity (the stock market) is directly proportional to the misery of the people. The one things that struck me from this talk was that the stock markets across the world shot up when the big tsunami hit some years back — misery of the have-nots is moolah for the haves.

The debate over the income-tax increase in the US demonstrates how poor the situation really is. Some comment I read stated that over 84% of all taxes were paid by <50% of the population, and hence taxing the rich even more was a shame, since the poor did not ‘pay their fair share’. This itself demonstrates the income gap. In a well balanced society, the tax payments would not be this skewed. I do not advocate a socialistic uniform distribution of wealth, but a more Gaussian one, where some people are really rich, some are really poor and most are in the middle. The US and India today resemble a bi-modal distribution — one small set are really rich and another large set really poor. The middle class is essentially non-existent in India, and although better in the US, the poor still abound. A beautiful example in my head is the compensation that the CEO of a successful tech company received: 380 million USD last year. Granted, it is vested over a period of some years and this amount is in company stock. Even then, this amount is ludicrous. This compensation is higher than the GDP of at least 5 countries in the world. On a PPP level (or GDP per capital), this is 3800 times that of the highest nation (Qatar according to the IMF in 2011 @ ~100,000 USD) . No individual should earn this much. Especially not when the poverty line (halfway across the world in India) is defined as 0.5 USD per day.

If this is what progress means, I’d rather have the stone age.

Anush

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