Nothing mystical about it

India’s success in reducing poverty is real

A few days ago, Atanu Dey found himself squaring off with Pankaj Mishra and Suketu Mehta, on a very mixed-up radio show that confused the terrorist attacks on Mumbai’s “business class” train compartments for a clash between India’s haves and have-nots. Rebutting Atanu’s arguments suggesting that average incomes in rural India will go up due to growth in manufacturing and services, Mishra argued that all this was just “intellectual mysticism”. He also cited the Economic and Political Weekly as a good source for those who seek to understand the issues better. Well then, it is timely then to quote from a recent article from that very source.

The headcount poverty ratio, in a span of just five years, declined dramatically to 26.1 per cent in 1999-2000 from 36.0 per cent in 1993-94. In contrast, it took as many as 10 long years to make a dent in the poverty ratio from 44.5 per cent in 1983 to 36.0 per cent in 1993-94. While the official estimates on poverty are enmeshed in a controversy on a number of methodological issues, it is now established beyond doubt that there has been a non-negligible decline in India’s poverty in 1990s.

Deaton and Dreze (2002) calculated from different rounds of data collected by National Sample Survey by adjusting the official estimates of incidence of poverty and found that still the reduction of poverty was noticeable during the 1990s. Illustratively, the headcount ratio of rural poverty was found to have come down from 39.4 per cent in 1993-94 to 26.8 per cent in 1999-2000; urban poverty too was shown to have come down from 39.1 per cent to 24.1 per cent during the period. [EPW (Note: pdf file)]

In other words, there is nothing mystical at all about 94 million rural Indians and 43 million urban Indians making it out of poverty in five years. But then Mishra also said “we should be focused, not so much about facts and statistics that these folks in Bombay and Delhi keep fiddling with…”.

The authors of the article attempt to uncover the reason why employment has not increased despite economic growth and reduction in poverty. The authors conclude by suggesting that the Rural Employment Guarantee ‘seems to be a move in the right direction’. They didn’t even consider labour reforms.

33 thoughts on “Nothing mystical about it”

  1. JK,

    To be more precise they are Upper Caste Gujrati Hindus !

    I demand reservation in First class for the backward class.

  2. Nitin: At that rate our poverty ratio must be south of 20% today. 8% growth per year for another 10 years and we should have a poverty rate south of 10%. In effect we will be the last generation to witness mass poverty. What an awesome achievement – without compromising personal freedom! See what our evil twin has been up to while we were busy.

    Gaurav: touche!

  3. Mishra doesn’t talk about poverty much. In his writings, he talks about most Indians not having a western standard of living (after all he writes for the western audience). Even if India will grow at 8% for the next generation, say 30 years, most Indians won’t catch up to western standards of living. And this while he prescribes economics of perpetual poverty. He has an upper hand either way.

    If we continue paying attention to the likes of Mishra, once the poverty can no longer be used as a boogie man, it will environmental degradation or wealth difference between rich and low income people or any number of things to beat us up with. It is a standard self-aggrandization cycle for Mishra and cohort.

  4. Atanu should not go to radio shows. On radio, slickness can easily outshine quality.

    Atanu was not polished like the other two, nor did he present his ideas in a convincing manner. May be he was incensed by what he heard earlier. In that case too, he is not the right kind of person to go to radio shows.

    Atanu – if you are reading this, I don’t mean any offense. Your time will be better spent on writing.

  5. Manu, being asked to speak at 4:30 AM after a very late night is not the best time for me. Generally I am more articulate. Too many things were not right for me. I could barely hear what was said by Lydon — the sound quality had deteriorated when they got me on air. I was in a hotel room in Mumbai and had run out of water and did not want to get off the phone to go in search of water. On top of it all, I was told at the last moment who the other guests were. Mishra, who I have characterized as a house-nigger, is not my favorite person in the world. Yes, I was very very angry and it took a lot out of me to talk while suppressing anger.

    Sorry for listing a long string of excuses but that is that.

  6. Atanu, u should have gone thru Nitin’s post 38 ways to make an argument. most of the lefties use that.

    One more thing. Never let them get u angry, Never. Remember Anger is ur enemy and by its nature it is friends with ur other enemies.

    I for my own part i’am a very good flame warrior myself. when faced with leftists i enjoy myself and have lotta fun.

    for example – I wrote an article on the Red-Green show in my blog and predicted immediately after the blasts that the leftist-liberal media will go to town saying that the Jehadis have now joined the class struggle by bombing first class coaches. It looks like they are following the script to a T :).

    read it here http://hawkeyeindia.wordpress.com/2006/07/14/the-red-green-show/

  7. Atanu,

    “a house-nigger”

    Speechless at the choice of words, in whatever interview you gave. Frankly, if you can speak like that in your sleep, you might be really practicing hard while awake. Wonder how you can justify denegrating one by insulting someone else totally unrelated.

  8. Atanu – I have great respect for you and admire what you write. It is easy for me to change my earlier inference.

    I know the feeling of rage that comes from having to deal with nincompoops who ignore data (or call it ‘mystical concoctions’).

    Good luck next time!

    Manu

  9. Sachin, the term “house nigger” is a descriptive term which originates from the institution of slavery. Using the term does not imply any disrespect to people of African descent. It is merely short-hand for a type of a person who wins favors from his superiors by flogging the “field niggers”. (See the related article Uncle Tom.)
    For the record, I did not call Pankaj Mishra a house nigger on the air. Some years ago, however, I did write on my blog that it is a hard choice when it comes to choosing between Arundhati Roy and Pankaj Mishra as to who takes the “The King of House-Niggerdom” title. I guess they will just have to share it.

  10. By all indications India has made enormous strides in reducing poverty. On almost every variable of the development index India is better placed today than it was in the pre-reforms era. It is also true, that millions of Indians are still trapped in poverty and for that we need more reforms, not less. Yes, even after India fully opens its economy there will still be some people who will be left behind. Free market economic model will not cure every ill in Inda’s battle against poverty. Just because a few million people will be poor, as against, hundreds who would have been poor if there were no reforms, does not mean reforms do not work. They are the best option currently, and till someone comes up with a better model, we should pursue economic reforms with vigour.

  11. The use of the word ‘mysticism’ by Mishra is clever and well thought-out. Christians — and those that have grown up in Christian socieities, regardless of their status as believers — abhor mysticism. By alluding to (Hindu) mysticism, Mishra is cleverly exploiting this Western phobia of Indian spiritual tradaition.

  12. RR, good point. And not just that, note that right on cue Mr Suketu Mehta pulled out the “Hindu rate of growth” — gratuitously assigning the blame for India’s dismal economic performance under Nehruvian socialism to Hindus and Hinduism. Nehru categorically stated that he was not Hindu and that culturally he was a Muslim. So more correctly it should be called “Muslim Rate of Growth” — and it fits right in with the neighboring Islamic countries’ rate of growth.

  13. Atanu,

    Sure you can call anyone whatever you want. BTW, I’m not quite sure if the term is not derogatory, just because its descriptive. How about calling the Indians (or in general south asians) as house niggers as well, if you go by its descriptive definition. We all know how much respectful that is.
    If you remember, someone had called Condi Rice and Powell as a house nigger too sometime back, and there was a huge storm of words after that.

    I dont want to start a flame war, just was a little shocked to read it.
    Have a god day/night

  14. Sachin, of course the term “house nigger” is extremely derogatory. That is why I apply it in the case of Roy and Mishra. It is extremely descriptive of who they are. My point was that I did not imply any insult to people the blacks in Africa or people of African descent.

  15. Nitin, this is the new ideological war that all those who love the idea of a free, democractic and prosperous India have to reluctantly fight (because god knows I for one hate any kind of ideology). There are those like P Sainath who bring genuine problems to the fore. And then there is Pankaj Mishra and his ilk – I don’t we have to use civil/polite discourse when talking about such people. They somehow do not or cannot see the truth.

    While India struggles to deal with the menace of terrorism and insurgency, people like Mishra tacitly encourage theories that link either the ridiculous ‘class warfare’ or the Gujarat riots to the bombings. What a hypocrite!

  16. Atanu: your extreme views hurt your credibility even among an audience that might be receptive. While I share your distaste for the Mishra-like media whores, your overtly right-wing religious bias is a complete turn-off. I suspect you’d be much more influential if you dropped the Ann Coulter-ish combativeness. Just my humble opinion of course.

  17. “Extreme” views of Atanu Dey? You sound rabidly extreme to me, ‘liberatarian’. You’d sound a little credible if you speak for yourself, rather than for an imaginary audience that you claim is happily in agreement with you..

  18. Libertarian – you are misreading Atanu.

    Calling an economy’s growth rate “hindu” is as ridiculous as calling it “muslim”. Were you as incensed when you first heard or read this phrase as you were after reading Atanu’s post?

    Even if you were, there is no denying the fact that most people in India readily accepted this phrase. Atanu’s post to me was simply highlighting the ridiculous nature of associating any religion to a growth rate.

  19. I find it dizzyish that Atanu’s views could possibly be considered to be extreme. It suggests we have lost the compass and are labeling as North the first direction that strikes our fancy.

  20. Why is Hindu rate of Growth not offensive but Muslim rate of Growth is (to me neither are, btw)? I am sure if Atanu had something funny to say about Hindu rate of Growth he would get his secular stamp of approval to be taken seriously. Alas, now he is a mystic economist peddling mysticism.

  21. Libertarian (#19 above):

    What I am thankful for is our ability to express our opinions plainly and doing so without an agenda to please anyone. For instance, you expressed your assessment of my position — overtly right-wing religious. I support your right to say what you please, and at the same time firmly reject that characterization.

    I stand alone — without aligning myself with any group, right, left or center. I am an observer, and like anyone else, my opinions are subjective. I observe terrorism and note that it is religiously motivated, and further that Islam is the motivating ideology. Your observations may vary. Please correct me if it is in variance with mine.

    If Hindus had been killing people over the centuries based on some “holy” book of theirs, and had been killing indiscriminately all over the world, I would have seen that and called it “Hindu Terrorism.” If Jains had been blowing themselves up and killing non-Jains to seek entry into their Jain heaven, I would call is “Jain Terrorism.”

    Why is it that I am in danger of losing credibility in the case at point? I see Islamic terrorism and call it such. Does Islam deserve some special exemption? Is that because if one does declare Islam to be a motivating factor for terrorism then Muslims will go on a killing spree to demonstrate that Islam is a “Religion of Peace”?

    I guess the answer to the last one is “yes” because the Indian government attempted to block access to sites which basically said that Islam and its prophet was responsible. The government feared that it would “hurt” the Muslims and in response to the “hurt” they will kill non-Muslims. Basically, the government tacitly admits that Muslims indulge in violent and destructive rage when faced with some opinions. It says, “Don’t do anything to upset Muslims. They will blow up and kill by the hundreds.” Surely not a very nice thing to say about a group.

    In any event, I am sorry to note that I have lost credibility with you. But in the final analysis, it is not my aim to appear credible; my aim is to say it like I see it.

  22. 7×6 (#22):find it dizzyish that Atanu’s views could possibly be considered to be extreme. It suggests we have lost the compass and are labeling as North the first direction that strikes our fancy.

    I like the word “dizzyish” — makes your head spin from reading the spin that people put on simple events.

    Regarding extreme views: yup, if you say anything remotely uncomplimentary about The Religion of Peace, you are a Hindu Fundamentalist. But if you shit on Hindus and Hinduism, draw Hindu dieties fornicating, then you are a secular right-thinking person.

  23. Kaul (#18):

    Ha, ha. Thanks for the comic relief. Seriously though, what is wrong with our PM? The man is seriously incompetent. There are people whose talk inspires and whose actions speak louder than their voices. Then there are the lesser breed who can talk a good talk but can’t walk that talk. Finally, the least of the lot: those who can barely talk, leave alone walk. Our dear Dr MMSingh appears to be in the last group. But then what can one really expect from someone who is dangling from the sari of an Italian woman?

    Manu (#21): Indians readily accept the phrase “Hindu rate of growth” because they have been conditioned to believe that anything bad can be justifiably associated with Hindus and Hinduism. Dhimmitude is a chronic condition, especially if Islamic rule is followed by colonial rule.

  24. Atanu,
    I think your posts #24 and #25 nail the inherently communal nature of the thought processes of many secularists in India, both in Govt and outside. I also agree with #25, where it appears kosher and in the finest “secular” tradition to run down hinduism and insult its believers. Mr Mishra is a fine example of such secularists, with his claims of hinduism not existing before the 10th century A.D as a religion.

  25. Atanu, dang! I was going to copyright that phrase. Go ahead. And peddle some heartless dismal science.

  26. Atanu: appreciate your response and attempt to outline your position. And I acknowledge that my previous post was overly harsh – especially the Ann Coulter part. I’d like to retract that part. As you’ve made the effort to explain your line of thinking, I must respond with where I stand.

    I have no doubt you would call out terrorism and its causes regardless of where it originates. What I have difficulty with is the tarring of all the followers of a certain religion. I’m not denying that no small amount of terrorism is conceived is madrassahs and mosques. But terrorism is the preserve of a tiny band of motivated folks, and a (slightly larger, I hope) group of active/tacit supporters. I assume that most folks are moderate, whatever their religion. Tarring every muslim (or hindu – as in the hindu rate of growth thing) with that brush is collective punishment. It’s also intellectually lazy. It’s much harder to isolate the immediate perpetrators and their social infrastructure than it is to make a broader generalization. But it’s the right thing to do. If we subject ourselves to that standard, my guess is that all right-thinking Indians (99%+ I’d presume) would support exemplary punishment for these cowards – secure in the knowledge that the state and the society had isolated the cancer.

    As an Indian, personally, it’s an extreme source of pride that we were the original melting pot. We’ve managed to take the most disparate lot of people and weave a common thread through them – give them an Indian identity. It’d be a shame if we spent our time squabbling and assigning blame, instead of fulfilling our destiny of being the world-beating leader of the Free East.

  27. Libertarian,

    I must object to your act of bequeathing Atanu with the Moniker of religious nut.
    I am the one who is religious nut 😉

  28. Libertarian (#30): I am not sure what gave you the idea that I have “all the followers of a certain religion” either explicitly or even implied that. Would you please care to quote me where I have done so?

    Let me state this one again for the record: Islamic terrorism. Read “Islamic” not “Muslim.” Islam is the ideology that is the root cause of much of the terrorism going around. People are the victims of Islamic terrorism, and that does not exclude Muslims themselves. The victims of an ideology — Naziism, Fascism, Communism, Islam — need not be confined to those who don’t profess that ideology; it could well include those who are its supporters. Germans too suffered Naziism; ordinary Russians did and continue to suffer from the evils of communism.

    If you are reading “Islamic terrorism” as “muslim terrorism” and then extending the interpretation to mean “all muslims are terrorists” then I am afraid I can not be held liable for interpretations which I neither support nor imply.

    Regarding your point about India being the original melting point, I have to postpone my rebuttal because I am afraid that I will not abuse my comment privileges by using Nitin’s blog as my soap box. Perhaps my blog is the right place.

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