even the 'reformers' want more of the same

mihir sen in the hindu:
Yes, reforms in India correctly entail privatisation of sectors such as airports, airlines, hotels, and cars but throughout the world, public goods like health, education and environment have been provided for or protected by governments. Ever since the Great Depression of the 1930s, capitalist democracies have seen major investments by the state in the fundamental rights of its citizenry. The difference is that in the U.S., Europe, South-East and East Asia, the state has invariably delivered. In India it has failed — both in the magnitude of its effort and in its quality. Thus, the suffering of our people is not just a tale of market failure. It is also a failure of governance. Which is where reforms for the poor must focus.
the reaction of those sections of the articulate classes in india which have welcomed the return of the congress has essentially been: thanks, for saving our jobs, our banks, our lifestyles. now, please do something about higher education, terrorism and...oh, the nrega was a great idea.

health, education, environment weren't on the agenda before the elections. and health and education of the poor never were the concerns of the brahminized classes- if sen seems radically different, please read on:
Livelihoods, education and health are not polio drops to be mechanically administered to the people. They represent complex outcomes that demand participatory processes and imaginative solutions. Merely throwing money at the people through direct cash transfers is not only insulting, it does not work. What ensures translation of outlays into outcomes is the software we put into place. This includes deployment of high quality human resource and systems that ensure accountability and stakeholder participation.
now how is this different from what was being done until now? the whole rural development package until now has always aimed to combine participatory processes and imaginative solutions, hasn't it? what the author seems to advocate is a larger presence for the bureaucracy, through such measures as increased administrative allocation under NREGA and other poverty alleviation schemes and also strengthen the public sector involvement in health, nutrition, education, banking, watershed, irrigation, NREGA and the Forest Rights Act through deployment of high quality human resource and systems that ensure accountability and stakeholder participation.

i repeat, what has the government been doing until now? how's doing more of the same going to produce better results?

health, education, drinking water and sanitation are public goods, as the author himself acknowledges in the earlier part of the article- how do banking, nrega, irrigation (which in india mostly means large dams) fit in? if the government's involvement in those areas serves the purpose of improving livelihoods, why can't direct cash transfers do that? this mixing of functions- public goods, large infrastructure and poverty alleviation- has always resulted in: lower emphasis on public goods, leakages in poverty schemes and bad planning, delays and corruption in irrigation projects.

the author wants reforms, but would like to keep the bureaucracy. he might as well be saying: thanks, go on saving our jobs, our banks, our lifestyles. in fact, we would like you to improve our job opportunities, our banks, our lifestyles.

a related piece of news- unicef attacks india's record on poverty:
India has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, falling far short of China’s record in protecting its population from the ravages of chronic hunger, United Nations officials said on Tuesday.

Unicef, the UN’s child development agency, said India, Asia’s third largest economy, had not followed the example of other regional economies such as China, South Korea and Singapore in investing in its people during an economic boom. It said this failure spelled trouble as the global economy deteriorated, while volatile fuel and food prices had already deepened deprivation over the past two years. (italics mine).

India has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty.

in the last five years, when the congress-led government at the centre talked about increased allocation to education and health all that resulted in was more iits and iims and greater spending on elitist higher education. in andhra pradesh, while the rajashekhar reddy government spent nearly rs.50,000 crores on large irrigation projects, without adding an extra acre to total irrigated area, hundreds of government schools in the city of hyderabad itself closed down. while the public health infrastructure in the state is breaking down with less than a 1,500 doctors working or not working in 30,000 villages, the state government has made a large donation of hundreds of crores to private hospitals in the state through a health insurance scheme that emphasizes: prevention is impractical.

the hidden nation-state: that's where all the money the unicef talks about went to- some directly, and some indirectly through leakages in the nrega and other schemes.

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