Sunday, April 1, 2012

Annotating Arundhati

Arundhati Roy raises a number of vital issues in her latest polemic Capitalism: A Ghost Story. She's at her strongest when describing the condition of places like Chattisgarh, where corrupt administrations have given over large tracts of land to industrialists through secret agreements; herded sections of the population into concentration camps; and created pro-government militias while branding all protestors Naxalites. Her larger criticism relates to think-tanks, philanthropic foundations and NGOs creating and maintaining a consensus about the way the world's economy ought to be run. I don't believe she's convincingly made the connection between the micro and macro picture. In fact, I find a number of her arguments faulty, error-ridden or plain dishonest. Here's a small sampling of those, with quotes from her essay in italics and my comments below these in normal type.

India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.

While the figure is shocking, it is also a misleading apples-and-oranges comparison, because 'assets' relate to total wealth, while 'GDP' measures production in a single year.

In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF “reforms” middle class—the market—live side by side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 2,50,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us.

It is amusing to have Arundhati Roy include herself in the 'middle-class'. She's rich by any standards, a dollar millionaire many times over. There is, of course, a persistent belief among rich Indians that they are only middle-class, and to that extent Roy comes through, for once, as typically Indian.
The passage describes a zero sum game in which 300 million Indians have won at the expense of 800 million losers. There is, however, no evidence that those who are impoverished were better off in the past. India has for millennia been a land where most citizens lived in misery.

The era of the Privatisation of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations—Tatas, Jindals, Essar, Reliance, Sterlite—are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot that is spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.

Roy focuses on mining throughout the piece, and this passage exposes a major fault line in her argument. Groups like the Tatas and Jindals are not among India's biggest exporters of minerals. They want mining leases to assure themselves of supply to their steel plants. There is a constant tussle, reflected in the minister in charge of mining battling the one in charge of steel, between indigenous manufacturers who want exports restricted and exporters such as Sesa Goa who want license to sell anywhere in the world. Roy's erroneous view of Capitalism as an efficient and single-minded monster cannot capture these conflicts.

... by now we know that the connection between GDP growth and jobs is a myth. After 20 years of “growth”, 60 per cent of India’s workforce is self-employed, 90 per cent of India’s labour force works in the unorganised sector.

Non-sequitur. The first sentence speaks about job growth as a whole, and the second shifts to self-employed and unorganised jobs versus organised ones. Has she considered that GDP growth might create opportunities for self-employed and unorganised workers? Sure, it would be good to have more organised sector employment, but that's prevented as much by outdated labour laws and short-sighted unions as by any failure in the market's functioning.

In the summer of 2011, the 2G spectrum scandal broke. We learnt that corporations had siphoned away $40 billion of public money by installing a friendly soul as the Union minister of telecommunication who grossly underpriced the licences for 2G telecom spectrum and illegally parcelled it out to his buddies.

The CAG's voodoo arithmetic has led to a lot of confusion, and Roy happily takes her place among the befuddled. She says corporations "siphoned away" 40 billion dollars of public money. No, they didn't. The money didn't actually exist. It is an estimate of what the government, in the GAG's view, might have earned, had it auctioned 2G licenses and spectrum, instead of following a first-come-first-served policy. The calculation of presumptive loss is itself seriously apples-and-oranges, using 3G prices as a benchmark to estimate 2G income. What laypeople don't seem to realise is that any money accruing to the government eventually comes from our pockets. If the government 'lost' 40 billion dollars, it was money that the telecom firms would have made back by charging us higher prices. Frankly, I'm happy the money stayed in our pockets and tariffs plunged so low that India ended up with the cheapest calling rates in the world.

Of late, the main mining conglomerates have embraced the Arts—film, art installations and the rush of literary festivals that have replaced the ’90s obsession with beauty contests... The Jindal Group brings out a contemporary art magazine and supports some of India’s major artists (who naturally work with stainless steel).

I was for a couple of years the editor of the contemporary art magazine Roy mentions. It was established before the Jindals owned mines. The Sajjan Jindal Group neither was nor is a 'mining conglomerate', but primarily a steel manufacturing business with interests in power generation. It is also wrong to claim the Jindal Group 'supports some of India's major artists (who naturally work with stainless steel)'. The artist most identified with stainless steel, Subodh Gupta, was part of a workshop in Jindal Steel's Vasind campus a decade ago. He has also featured regularly in Art India magazine. But those are very minor entries in his CV. I don't believe the Jindals have patronised any major, or even minor, artist, in the way, say, Harsh Goenka of the RPG Group has done. The Sajjan Jindal Group, by the way, does not manufacture stainless steel. Jindal Stainless is run by a different branch of the family.

But which of us sinners was going to cast the first stone? Not me, who lives off royalties from corporate publishing houses.

Wow, a moment of self-reflection after a decade and a half of pointing fingers. Though she says she won't cast the first stone, Roy chucks a number of missiles in the course of this diatribe. Since she's in an introspective mood, though, she might consider how her international travel would be possible without steel and oil; and how her home could be lit and her PC booted up without power from either burning coal, building dams, or splitting atoms.

What better way for usurers to use a minuscule percentage of their profits to run the world? How else would Bill Gates, who admittedly knows a thing or two about computers, find himself designing education, health and agriculture policies, not just for the US government, but for governments all over the world?

Bill Gates, who has donated far more than a minuscule percentage of his wealth to his Foundation, was among the most powerful men in the world long before he turned to philanthropy. Just because his foundation designs a few policies doesn't mean he runs the world.

Mohammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank brought microcredit to starving peasants with disastrous consequences.

Some of the sheen has come off the microcredit miracle, no doubt, but to suggest Grameen Bank has been a disaster is surely a mistake. Many of those starving peasants stopped starving as a result of access to credit.

The Ford Foundation established a US-style economics course at the Indonesian University. Elite Indonesian students, trained in counter-insurgency by US army officers, played a crucial part in the 1965 CIA-backed coup in Indonesia that brought General Suharto to power. Gen Suharto repaid his mentors by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Communist rebels.

These kinds of statements most clearly demonstrate Roy's dishonest mode of argument. There are some chaps studying a course in economics designed by the Ford Foundation in Indonesia. A completely different group of 'elite students' supposedly plays a part in a CIA-backed coup. The details of the coup of 1965 have never been sufficiently revealed, but it appears to have been one faction of the army trying to take over the country and failing. I haven't read anything that suggests 'elite students' played a significant role in the operation or in the slaughter that occurred later. But by bringing anti-insurgent students into the picture, Roy creates a sense in our minds that the economics students have something to do with the coup, and, by extension, that the Ford Foundation was somehow involved in the Indonesian massacres of 1965 and 1966. But all the Ford Foundation had done was set up an economics course. It didn't kill any Communists, nor train anybody to kill Communists, nor even, as far as we can tell, train anybody in economics who later killed Communists.

Eight years later, young Chilean students, who came to be known as the Chicago Boys, were taken to the US to be trained in neo-liberal economics by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago (endowed by J.D. Rockefeller), in preparation for the 1973 CIA-backed coup that killed Salvador Allende, and brought in General Pinochet and a reign of death squads, disappearances and terror that lasted for seventeen years.

More false history. The programme to train Chileans at Chicago originated in the 1950s. Salvador Allende gained power in Chile in 1970. In no sense or form were students from Chile taken to the US 'in preparation' for the 1973 CIA-backed coup. The Ford Foundation had no more to do with the coup in Chile than it did with the coup in Indonesia.

A conservative estimate of the UID budget exceeds the Indian government’s annual public spending on education.

Apples-and-oranges again. Roy appears to be comparing the UID budget for its entire multi-year rollout to an annual budgetary outlay. To provide a more accurate comparison, here are estimates for 2012-13 announced in Pranab Mukherjee's recent budget:
UID: 14232 crore rupees
Education: 48,781 rupees
Education, moreover, is a State subject, which means the total Indian governmental contribution to schooling is far greater than the 48,781 crores allotted by the Centre.

As US universities opened their doors to international students, hundreds of thousands of students, children of the Third World elite, poured in. Those who could not afford the fees were given scholarships.

The whole point of scholarships is to ensure that deserving students don't get left out just because they aren't part of the elite. Roy manages to twist this honourable aim to make scholarships part of a grand Anglo-American conspiracy to brainwash Third Worlders. "Those who could not afford fees were given scholarships" makes the entire grants process seem so easy from the recipients' perspective.

Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, funding artists, intellectuals and filmmakers, gently luring them away from radical confrontation, ushering them in the direction of multi-culturalism, gender, community development—the discourse couched in the language of identity politics and human rights.

Actually, for decades the billions poured into education programmes and cultural grants by the American government and its proxies failed to turn potential revolutionaries away from the path of radical confrontation. The real problem was that regimes that tried to do away with the market created far more misery and perpetrated far greater atrocities than the system they set out to replace. Eventually, most intelligent people understood that the practical failures of anti-capitalist governments resulted not only from sanctions, embargoes and CIA-sponsored insurgencies, but also from deep-rooted in-built drawbacks. Roy never acknowledges that long and bitter history of failure, except insofar as she purges her writing of anything that could be construed as a positive alternate vision.

Update, April 2: A couple of friends have pointed out that I come across as condoning the corruption of A Raja, and I can see why they see it that way. The 2G scandal is rather complicated, but, briefly, Raja's corruption involved getting firms licenses that would otherwise not have qualified under the established criteria, and blocking a couple of firms who would have qualified. He needs to be punished for this. My objection is to the idea that his acts constituted one of the greatest scams in India's history, a belief fed by the absurd 40 billion dollar figure the CAG dreamt up. Had the licenses been handed out sticking to procedure, the policy would have been preferrable in many ways to the auctions that are now going to be held for anything from spectrum to mining, following a recent Supreme Court verdict. Auctions tend to drive up prices for licenses to irrational levels, and hurt consumers because the costs are inevitably passed on to them.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Girish,

Do we really know if Arundhati is wealthy? I mean, I know she received a lot in prize money but she is also known to have given away a large part of it to NBA, etc, right? She must be earning money through the royalties but that is probably her only source of income.

It is sad to see her warping facts in her essays, though. We know from her novel that she is capable of being deeply perceptive; which makes me wonder if she consciously fudges facts to suit her arguments. I want to believe that the contradictions in her writing are a result of her limited comprehension and not a conscious act of manipulation.

MMS

Girish Shahane said...

Fair enough; if she's given away most of her wealth, and continues to donate most of her income, then it is possible she isn't wealthy. In terms of income, present and past, she certainly is rich. Royalties from her books, plus the money she earns from licensing essays like Capitalism: A Ghost Story, add up to quite a bit.

Satish said...

I first read the title of your post as 'Annoying Arundhati' :).
The holes in her long essay were almost waiting to be called out, thanks for an excellent compilation.
Like the earlier commenter has mentioned, i also wonder if she deliberately obfuscates facts in favour of polemic to gain a wider audience involvement. As you have rightly pointed too, she does raise a number of important issues. Don't know if she uses sensationalism as a tool to amplify the forum of the debate to bring increased awareness on these issues, and in the process almost wilfully exaggerates/commits factual errors which she should otherwise (hopefully) be cognizant of.

Girish Shahane said...

Satish, I do have a sneaking sympathy for Roy's take-no-prisoners approach. She's aware, I'm sure, that a lot of her supporters work with NGOs and community organisations, and they aren't going to love suggestions they've been seduced and side-tracked by lucrative foreign grants. I also see the point of exaggerating in order to draw attention to serious issues. Ironically, Roy's argument is analogous to criticism of The God of Small Things by people who viewed her massive advance from a foreign publisher as evidence she was packaging India in the way White people wanted to see it.

Anonymous said...

My compliments. It takes patience to wade thru a Roy diatribe and then surgically deconstruct it. Now if only you would send this to Outlook to be published.

SA

Soubhik said...

You point out that "India has for millennia been a land where most citizens lived in misery." - while this is factually correct, can't we at least try to pass the benefits reaped by the fortunate few down to those in need through a clearly defined system. While Ms Roy goes on her own tangent, it is a tad disappointing to see another fairly fortunate intellectual effectively implying that those, who have been on the margins generations after generation, should continue to dwell there. Pitied by the rich & ignored by the govt, while both doing nothing about helping to change their lives.

Girish Shahane said...

SA, thank you! Soubhik, you're absolutely right, I got carried away by the factual point and failed to bring in my own larger belief. Let me clarify. I should have written something like, "While it is lamentable that the benefits of two decades of fast GDP growth have not been more equitably distributed, it is certainly not the case that 300 million people have gotten better off at the cost of impoverishing 800 million others".

Swarup said...

Somebody who owns a bungalow in New Delhi and a cottage in Panchgani is certainly not middle class.

Ingrid said...

This post is almost as guilty of misdirection as Arundhati's article. For instance, the choice to invest or provide tax write offs to 'elite' education institutions rather than ensuring basic education to the poorest does imply that the middle/upper classes benefit at the expense of the poor. Foregoing revenues from spectrum auctions in fabour of keeping the money in consumers' wallets impacts the availability of resources for development to the benefit of those consumers again at the expense of those who might have benefited. Bill Gates did not have the kind of access to policy making in the US, India, large parts of Africa the G-20 or the UN as CEO of Microsoft. Beyond the Gates Foundation's influence on HIV/AIDS policy in India or their role in shaping agriculture policies in Africa it's noteworthy that Melinda Gates was the only non-government speaker at the UN MDG summit in 2010 while Bill Gates had exclusive access to the G-20 meeting in Cannes. Private foundations have been instruments of state policy in many parts of the world. The reason Delhi was the first overseas office of the Ford Foundation is not disconnected from the Kennedy administration's need to ensure India did not follow in China's footsteps after 1949. Even in the absence of a political agenda, NGOs filling the gaps in state delivery of basic services can and does defuse popular anger, enabling the status quo. I could go on...

Girish Shahane said...

Hi Ingrid,
I don't know how tax write offs for elite educational institutions come into the picture. I said nothing whatsoever about that topic, and neither did Arundhati Roy, as far as I can tell.
It's true Bill Gates has access to types of policy making now that he didn't have as CEO of Microsoft. But that's understandable, since, as CEO of Microsoft, he didn't have any stake in health issues. Roy's point is that people like Gates choose to set up foundations in order to become powerful. While the specific areas of Gates' actions have changed over the past two decades, he was extraordinarily powerful back when he was the richest man in the world and controller of software that ran 90% of the world's computers.
Just because Bill and Melinda Gates are at X or Y conference, moreover, doesn't mean they determine policy. I don't believe Bill Gates has had any great influence over India's agricultural policy, for example. If you believe he has, please provide concrete examples of how that influence has played out. Frankly, given how much money and effort he's poured into saving hundreds of thousands of lives, I don't grudge him a seat at the policy-making table. It only becomes dangerous if he uses that seat to push through some kind of nefarious agenda with ulterior motives. To the best of my knowledge, he's done nothing of the kind.
I didn't deny at any point that private foundations have been instruments of state policy, particularly US state policy. In fact, my last paragraph speaks specifically about US government proxies.
About the Kennedy administration and the Ford Foundation, anybody who knows India's history would understand there was little chance, by the time kennedy became President, that India would go China's way. The idea of the Ford Foundation as a bulwark against a Communist takeover of India in 1960 is laughable.

Girish Shahane said...

OK, just checked the Ford Foundation bit. It had nothing to do with the Kennedy administration; it was set up in India in 1952 at the invitation of Nehru and the instigation of the US ambassador Chester Bowles. Bowles was scared that China would do better than India, thus tempting starving Indian peasants to choose the Maoist path. Nehru was afraid of the same thing. Ford's expertise came in handy increasing agricultural productivity and helping with land reforms and planning. However, it's not as if India adopted anything close to the US model of economic development, far from it.

Anonymous said...

The apple-orange branding of GDP v/s assets borders on pedantic. Yes, confusing a stock figure with a flow figure is inherently flawed as a high school accountancy class would tell us but it does not disqualify Roy'quantification of a measure x as a percentage of another figure as a comparative yardstick. The trouble is we don't have a single yardstick to arrive at a Pareto analyis of income distribution. Taking any single figure again falls into the apple-orange trap.Asset figures are routinely used to arrive at the various richest people list by publications, but since the poor by definition do not have any wealth - assets as a comparative yardstick cannot be used. Turnover figures which are used for arriving at percentage share of dominant corporates in economy,like south korean cheabols rules out individuals.Similarly, computation of income figures at both end of spectrum is also ridden with flaws as how would you compute Ratan Tata's income which you cannot just peg at just sum total of his salary and dividend income. A consumption based analysis like the one by Planning commission which came in for much flak again suggests a ratio not very far what you dub as Roy's orange-apple comparision. Similarly market cap figures will not captonly capture that part of economy that is traded on bourses. Outliers, by very definition will swing averages, and any yardstick, any measure will yield results that are equally shocking. Your arguement just helps you win a debating point and nothing else. The rest of your Fisking is equally superfluous.

ritesh said...

I have 2 points to make.

1
In my opinion, figures are not going to change much even if wealth of top 100 wealthiest persons is compared with wealth of the rest of population.

2
It does give some idea about concentration of wealth. In my opinion, the more distributed wealth is, higher the GDP of a country

PIA said...

Hai girish,

You say that allocation is preferable to auction because the more money is spent for obtaining licenses, more has to be recouped from the customer. But you are missing the possibility that intense competition might have kept prices at low levels and the companies would decide to recover their higher license costs over a longer period of time. Also the higher licence costs could also have eaten into the companies profit rather than burning a hole in the consumers pocket. Competition restrains ability to price.
Also greater license fees would have meant only companies with deeper pockets could have gotten in and these are precisely the kind of companies that are willing to bear losses that would come from lower prices, due to competition, without exiting the market.

Another point is that you'd prefer conventional allocation as it will help keep telecom costs lower and keeps your money in your pocket. Everybody would prefer to keep their money in their own pocket but taxes, levies etc are inherently a method of redistribution. The government uses the money the money collected for some for purposes such as education, infrastructure development such as rural electrification and supply of drinnking water, programmes such as the NREGA - which benefit a different group. The efficiency of the governments spending is questionable but the rationale is not.

Girish Shahane said...

Hi Pia,
Thanks for your response. In the case of telecom, we actually have two scenarios to compare empirically. First, a number of licenses were granted under Raja's tenure (again, I'm not contesting that some people were favoured illegally over others; but for the purpose of measuring competition, it's important that the total number of licenses increased dramatically). This increased competition led to a drop in tariffs, which led India to be, as I pointed out, the nation with the lowest call rates in the world.
Since the 3G auctions, this has changed. I've written about my own bad experiences with Vodafone, and it's easy to find forums full of complaints against mobile operators using unfair means to extract money from customers. It's true some companies have deep pockets but as Vijay Mallya is learning, deep pockets only take you so far in an industry where intense competition and high input costs are causing all entrants pain. Given the kind of rates firms paid for 3G licenses, making money fairly soon was imperative, and we are seeing that play out before our eyes.
As far as redistribution goes, you're right, but my main point did not relate to whether we prefer money in our pockets or in the government's redistribution schemes. The main point was that the CAG fixed a certain presumptive cost, and fixed that cost based on a set of utterly dreadful assumptions (3G auctions as a basis for 2G licenses). I disagree even with your contestation of my minor point. You say taxes and levies are inherently redistributive, but that's not true at all. There are certain kinds of tax structures that serve redistributive ends (like higher marginal rates linked to higher income) and others, such as the Poll tax that brought Margaret Thatcher down or some levies on sales and consumption, that do not serve any redistributive purpose. The question then is, whether the spread of 2G phones to 300 million people as a result of extraordinarily low rates created more happiness and economic opportunity for a greater number of people than the redistributive schemes the government would have installed by taking in money through 2G auctions. Since this is a counterfactual, I cannot claim any absolute answer to that question, and I can understand why someone might disagree with my point of view. However, the fact is that within a few years 300 million people began to be able to communicate freely with family and friends, while after sixty years of the government's redistributive schemes, most Indians still don't have that drinking water you mention.
In fact, our government spends most of its money not on redistributive schemes like NREGA, but on defence and fuel subsidies. The incredible thing is that, unlike the presumptive loss we suffered in the 2G case, the fuel subsidy outgo is a direct misuse of government money, but nobody's fussed about that. Partly because it is a subsidy to middle class and rich people, and therefore not to be considered a subsidy at all (now I'm sounding like Arundhati Roy).
I'm no Libertarian; I do believe the government's total tax income as percentage of GDP is too low in India. However, I don't believe auctioning everything in the government's control is the best way of addressing that low figure.

Anonymous said...

There is no empirical evidence of the second round of 2G allocations resulting in lower tariffs.A bulk of the 122 licences granted by Raja were not even operational right till the cancellation, and some started operating only when the penalties and cancellation threats kicked in.
The biggest drop in average tariff from 52 paise to 39 paise came in 2008-2009.In fact there is a net increase in tariff in post 2G scenario because of avg tariff going from 30p to 70p between Mar'10 to Mar'11. There have been several reasons for the tarff drop including mobile number portability, churning, and the fact that the revenue bouquet expanding to include value added services. Since a bulk of the subscriber base consists of low revenue pre-paid base the avg revenue per user is as less as little over 100rs per month where a ring-tone at 5 to 7 Rs becomes quite substantial part of avg revenue. The working classes are regularly subjected to marketing efforts selling them the latest ring-tones, astrological forecasts in in Romanised Hindi and Sunny Leone wallpapers and is actually quite susceptible to the offers. And then there is the kind of skullduggery which Vodafone subjected you to. so clearly talk-time's share of revenue is constantly declining.As we speak now the combined user base of the new 2G licences is 9% of the cobined market share. So how much of dent AR Raja's thievery has made on the talk-time tariffs is something which still cannot be conclusively established.

Girish Shahane said...

Very good points, Anon, wish you'd write under your proper name. It's true, there's no study I've read linking Raja's 2G licenses to falling tariffs. But I do recall that Tata Docomo and Uninor specifically came in with extraordinarily low call rates which forced existing operators to adjust.
The other point you make, that many licensees didn't roll out, is worth mentioning from a different perspective than yours, namely: if there were such easy profits to be made and everything had been given away at such absurd prices, how come most licensees didn't even manage to get a working network up? Obviously the extra investment required for roll out (which the CAG never bothered to consider) was a significant deterrent.
I will say again, that my main argument against Arundhati Roy, the place where she gets things deeply wrong, as do most Indians, is her belief that there was embezzlement of government funds when actually it was only a presumptive loss. What you address is a secondary argument, and Arundhati Roy is mistaken about 'siphoning' even if you are right and I am wrong about this.

Anonymous said...

Presumptive loss, and because of similar presumptive figures billion dollar deals and zero asset companies like Instagram are valued and purchased and sold.

Girish Shahane said...

Yes, and anybody who has lived through the first dotcom crash knows the risks involved in that.

Anonymous said...

Arundhati Roy's mension about Chicago boys is not completly false history. I think you know that as you mentioned that the program started in 50s. They were instrumental in policy making of Pinochet administation and they held many key position. They were part of the elaborate CIA plan to supress communist uprisings in Chile.

Girish Shahane said...

I've read my William Blum.

Anonymous said...

this is a country with a trillion dollar economy and 7% growth rate still 250 thousand farmers have to commit suicide because of debt. This is essential because of the neoliberal policies that created the and sustain the billionairs and 300million middle class. These same policies are responsible for the impoverishment of the 800 million. Its not just the case of India people out on wall street are created by the same system.

Girish Shahane said...

To make that case, you'd have to compare suicide rates of farmers between, say, 1971 and 1991, with rates between 1991 and 2011. Just because a phenomenon gets highlighted by media at a particular point doesn't mean it begins to exist at that particular time.

masterdt said...

Noamundi earns 'ideal mine' tag from central panel - The shah commission praised Tata Steel's operatng system at the Naomundi mine in west singhbhum.
Also the commision called it as ideal mine in that region.

For more information please do visit any of the following link..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eU4T1MJhco

http://www.flickr.com/photos/webmaster2012/6942079326/

http://masterdt.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/tata-steel-in-the-media/

Anonymous said...

Then to make comment you should suggest some evidence to show farmer suicides were always this high and the only difference now is the media attention. To my understanding this drastic increase in farmer suicides started in 90s and that's when it started to get the media attention. You can refer to the wikipedia article about the issue or you can read the reports and articles of famous journalist P Sainath on this issue. Its not just suicides, malnutrition levels are increasing in rural areas and there is a decrease in average food intakes. Do you really have any credible explanation for why 800 million people are still impoverished in this country? you seem pretty convinced that it has nothing to do with the policies that created the multi billionaires and 300 million middle class.

Girish Shahane said...

You follow an interesting method of argument. You make a claim, and then, when somebody asks for evidence to back up that claim, you refuse to provide any, and insist the person questioning the claim ought to prove the claim false. Marvellous. So, for example, I can assert that there is a silver teapot floating between Jupiter and Mars. And when you ask me for evidence of this, I will respond by asking you to disprove it. And your inability to do so will count as proof of the existence of that floating silver teapot. No wonder you post anonymously. If you actually had the courage of your convictions, you'd let us know who you are. This is the last anonymous post I'm going to allow on this thread.

aravindan said...

So you have more problem with my identity than the claim I made. I hope this comment will solve that problem. You said in the earlier comment that I refuse to provide evidence.I thought if mention my basic references, you can look that up and that will help you to check the credibility of my claim that India's economic policy is a reason for farmer suicides in India. I will try to provide more specific references on that.

Girish Shahane said...

You didn't mention any references, basic or otherwise. Still, I await the results of your research and if you end up actually providing any useful data, this exchange will have been worthwhile.
That 'identity', by the way, is still pretty anonymous: no photograph, no full name. Still, it's a step forward.

aravindan said...

You want to know my bio-data? I am B Tech student from Trivandrum(Kerala). Is there any thing more you want to know just ask. I don't usually do these commenting. I actually do have problem with almost everything in your article I will get back to you on them later. I am little busy with my exams right now.

Hope you got the references I provided.

Have you ever even read about farmer suicides in India? I don't understand on what basis you completely deny my claim. My claim wasn't some silver teapot between Mars and Jupiter that you can never find, prove or disprove. You could have just looked it up on Google if you even cared about its credibility.

Girish Shahane said...

There's some problem with the other message you sent. I'm cutting and pasting it here:
There is a report in The Hindu news paper hope you can consider this as evidence.
Farm suicides worse after 2001 — study link-http://www.hindu.com/2007/11/13/stories/2007111352250900.htm

I will give you a more comprehensive reference if you care to read this 25 page report you will get a fair idea about the agrarian crisis in India. Its a report by Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School named Every Thirty Minutes: Farmer Suicides, Human Rights, and the Agrarian Crisis in India.
link-http://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=Every+Thirty+Minutes%3A+Farmer+Suicides%2C+HumanRights%2C+and+the+Agrarian+Crisis+in+India&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCcQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.chrgj.org%2Fpublications%2Fdocs%2Fevery30min.pdf&ei=tAKPT6ifBMbIrQfm3Km9CQ&usg=AFQjCNGwBln7mun0NhloD_34c2yJa2i-pQ

I would like to quote two three sentences to give you a small idea about the condition in India.

"It is estimated that more than a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide
in the last 16 years—the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history."

"In 2009 alone, the most
recent year for which official figures are available, 17,638 farmers committed suicide—that’s one
farmer every 30 minutes. While striking on their own, these figures considerably underestimate the
actual number of farmer suicides taking place."

"Over the past two decades, economic reforms—which included the removal of agricultural subsidies and
the opening of Indian agriculture to an increasingly volatile global market—have increased costs, while
reducing yields and profits for many farmers, creating widespread financial distress. As a result,
smallholder farmers are often trapped in a cycle of insurmountable debt, leading many to take their lives."

If you are really interested to know the validity of my claim you can can find lot of materials- report, studies etc. in the internet. Hope these will serve as evidence if you need any more information on this feel free to ask.

Girish Shahane said...

Aravindan, I must say it's a bit sad what passes for evidence in your mind. If it was just you, I wouldn't feel depressed, but this is a wider trend. In fact that report by those Human Rights guys is an even better illustration. "The largest wave of recorded suicides in human history"? If that's true, it's only because population levels today are far higher than at any time in human history.
The central point is tha I asked for figures from the pre-liberalisation period to be compared with those from the post-liberalisation period. You haven't provided these. There is, of course, a tendency now to overstate farmer suicides because of the possibility of compensatory payment from the government. But look at the data for 2008 and 2009, the most recent years available, and the figures are virtually unchanged from the ones quoted by the Hindu for 2002-2005; in fact they've come down a bit.
None of this is to suggest farmer suicides are not a tragedy, and that some of these don't occur because of changes in the economy. It is, however, much easier to point out where changes caused suicides than where changes prevented suicides, the latter involving an impossible-to-prove counterfactual.
By the way, I am not "completely denying" your claim. To deny it would be to assert it is false. I merely asserted you have in no way proved that farmer suicides have risen as a percentage of the population following Liberalisation. Even after your latest missives, there's not a single figure you've provided for the pre-Liberalisation era. Note again, that such figures would be more prone to under-reporting because increased scrutiny and increased compensation in recent years has undoubtedly boosted farmer suicide figures. So there would need to be a substantial jump for it to be proven that Liberalisation led to farmer suicides increasing.

Girish Shahane said...

There's also a great danger in equating correlation with causation. Arundhati Roy writes about the formation of the Salwa Judum right after the signing of an MOU between the Chattisgarh government and the Tatas (implying, based purely on the closeness of the dates, that one had a causal connection with the other). This is faulty logic.
Take for instance the astonishing difference in suicide rates between Bihar and Kerala. Suicide rates in Kerala are almost 40 times higher than those in Bihar. Yet Kerala is in every respect a more equitable society than Bihar, with better land distribution, better health care, life expectancy, literacy, better everything. You could argue, on the basis of these figures, that better health care and education leads to higher suicide rates.