Thursday, January 13, 2011

Does capitalism need a human face?

Every so often in India I hear this "economic reforms need a human face" or "reforms should be for aam-aadmi". A few days back Narayana Murthy too added to the chorus asking for a human face to capitalism. This, from a man who said that a night in jail in a communist country pushed him to capitalism. Whether its India or even US, the citadel of free market, capitalism has to be apologetic for its success. Even those who grudgingly acknowledge the success of free markets preface their approvals with a perfunctory "with all its faults". Free market is good 'despite' its faults.But when it comes to 'communism' or its bastardized version 'socialism' the label 'progressive' is used instinctively as prefix. 

"Progressive". Today left winger's cry hoarse about Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries that US is leaving in much better position, arguably, than they were 10 years ago. Where were these bleeding heart liberals when Stalin gobbled Eastern Europe? When Soviet Russia marched into Afghanistan and killed millions Indira Gandhi, she of the Non-Aligned Movement,  refused Thatcher to condemn it. Well her father dithered endlessly and stood by watching Soviet armies crush Hungary. Churchill famously decried the "Iron Curtain". A philosophy that sent to Gulags its own citizenry by the millions, murdered and maimed nation after nation, laid desolate half a continent, could not feed its own people, had to build walls to keep its citizenry, jammed radio waves, controlled thought, engendered a fear psychosis that is unparalleled even today, is what is called 'progressive'. When I hear liberals talk smugly about MNC's as pirates I wonder what would they call a man who orders his army to shoot down striking farmers? Kronstadt. 

Walmart and Reliance food are corporates to be opposed. Would we rather have the Soviet model of different grocery stores for the privileged party apparatchiks and the plebian? Some form of 'dictatorship by the proletariat' that is. Or do we want this, look at the women they are certainly not middle class even and they are shopping in a department store (Picture from Outlook Article by Sunil Khilnani) Walmart saves US consumers much more than the entire cost of the US government food stamp program.


Lets turn to Indian style socialism. Everything that is good about India today is in the private sector or thanks to private sector. If a package is to be couriered who would you prefer? The Indian Postal Service or a private courier? Bank's were nationalized to make it 'for the poor man'. Have we ever seen a poor man treated decently in any nationalized bank? Do we want BSNL/MTNL monopoly again to hold the Indian consumer to ransom? Tata's airline was nationalized to create Air-India and we all have experienced their wonderful service !!! Is there any SINGLE government run entity that we could feel happy about? Can anyone ever transact anything in a government office and come without paying bribe and most importantly come with our sense of self respect intact? Not even India's own ministers get treated in government hospitals. Inefficiency, corruption, unmatched arrogance these are the hall marks of anything that the government got into. YET its economic reforms that needs a human face.

Arun Shourie, ex-disinvestment minister in NDA period lamented that if India scrapped all anti-poverty programs and just sent a check to each poor person they would get Rs 5000 per annum but today they get pennies. 

Today Indian graduates, not just professional degree holders, are brimming with confidence, their opportunities are muti-fold increased, not many even know about government "employment exchanges" and even if they did they shun it. For close to 50 years India experimented with an economic philosophy that was plainly a failure. In the last 10 years the country has progressed in quantum leaps and is this what that needs a human face? If this is not human face by itself what else is? 

The day Indira Gandhi was assassinated her own citizens did not know the fate of their PM until 6 PM while a genocide against Sikhs was unleashed. Thanks to DoorDarshan's monopoly. Karunanidhi once broke a TV as protest against Hindi creeping into our living rooms through DD controlled TV. Today DD is virtually non-existent in TN thanks to freeing up of government monopoly. Privatization achieved what Karunanidhi could possibly never have achieved. 

This conundrum is not only in India. Even in the US a corporate CEO who generates jobs and profits is not respected on par with a blatherer like Al Gore. Its easier for Al Gore to be respected than for Lloyd Blankfein the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Gore was born with a silver spoon, miserly when it came to charity but is adored by the tree-hugging limousine-liberal. Blankfein brought up in Housing projects is reviled, his bonuses are ridiculed and he can never win a Nobel peace prize.

On Dec 26th 2010 the North East, particularly New York City, was pummeled by a blizzard that dumped more than a feet of snow. When NYC streets were not cleaned promptly New Yorkers heaped anger on the mayor. Only later investigations showed that it was the unionized workforce that was the culprit. The union supervisors wanted to send a message to the mayor for the layoffs he had done, they asked the workers to go slow on cleanup.

Couple of years back NY metro-transit workers, most are very generously compensated, struck work just on the eve of X-mas sending retail shoppers (and retail income) to a tizzy. The strike was actually illegal and caused great misery to millions.

The teacher's union is the white collar version of the corruption ridden Teamsters union. If a school had to layoff teachers due to budget they follow a "last in first out" principle. It does not matter than there might be a senior teacher who is incompetent, the junior may very well be the brightest. Does not matter.

I've rambled across the plains just to give a flavor of the inherent unfairness of asking capitalism, time and again, to wear a human face. 

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