Instead of making the rich poorer lets make the poor richer
I was surprised to read the headlines in the newspaper today. Our prime minister Mr. Manmohan Singh has actually advised corporate India to cut pay packets because it will lead to social unrest. It is strange that a statement of this sort is coming from a PM who has stood for “unshackling individual enterprise to encourage wealth creation,’ something that eventually leads to prosperty for more and more people.
It doesn’t happen in a generation or two…of all people the PM should know it. I am not saying that his statement (which smacks of hypocrisy and appeasement politics) is incorrect. Ofcourse the poor feel resentment and hatred for the rich…I’ve written about it here.
You can see it everywhere. Stones thrown at trains by slumdwellers who live near rail tracks. Political rioters targeting the bigger, plusher cars. Romeos from the slums eve-teasing fancily dressed girls. You can see it in their eyes too…in the eyes of the very poor. Hostility. Not amongst the middle classes though. Not even amongst the lower lower middle classes. They are struggling to get there, struggling to improve their lot. But you can see it amongst those who have no hope… specially the urban poor who see the rich flash their wealth every which way they can. The urban poor who have no access to education, or those for whom it is too late…these have-nots hate the haves. Naturally. An unskilled labourer who works 14 hours a day, feeding his family of five on just Rs 4000/- a month simply cannot comprehend why a middle class executive should earn as much as Rs 40,000/- a month or that starting salaries of young IT graduates even from ordinary institutes are three or four times his.
But the solution to this problem is certainly not to make the rich poorer. We need to make the poor richer.
Asking corporate India to cut pay packets won’t work. Its rather silly I think. Such a policy targets those people who have clean money. Our taxation system, one of the cruelest in the world, is very hard on those who have jobs. The rich business community and self employed professionals can get away by evading taxes.
Manmohan Singh’s has advised the businesses to plough the money back into their businesses instead of living a lavish lifestyle. A sensible businessman will do that…if he doesn’t he will pay the price eventually. But to expect that he not spend his extra cash to live out his dreams is unfair…the man has slogged for it and deserves to. As long you pay your taxes, you have every right to spend your money as you see fit. Sure, even I find some displays of wealth downright vulgar, but I have no right to tell Mr. Laxmi Mittal not to do it.
So what is the solution to the problem? What will keep the jealousy of the poor in check? Well, we need to give them hope, the belief that even if they can’t make it, their children can. The only way we can do this is by strengthening our education system. Improve our government schools.
Talk to the poor and they will tell you that they don’t want fancy cars or bungalows…they want to put their kids in a good school and they want to send their children to good coaching classes. When they can’t afford to they see it as the end of the road.
Its also important to make social service compulsory, right from school level, like it is in developed countries. It creates awareness of the have-nots and as these children grow up they are more likely to work for the society in some way. Also, all corporates should invest in infrastructure for the poor, or in education. A lot of corporates are doing it but it is not compulsory.
Our national expenditure on health needs to be improved dramatically. I have written in more detail about how little we spend on both health and education here. Most Indians spend their own money on health. This hits the poor very hard as government hospitals are too few and too crowded. According to a 2005 WHO report, India has fewer than one hospital bed and one physician per 1,000 residents; in the countryside, where nearly three-quarters of the population lives, one doctor may be responsible for more than 200,000 residents. Its a well known fact that while our economy is growing at a fast rate, our public spending is not keeping up. Our government spends less than 5 per cent of our GDP on health which is four times less than that of the US, almost half of that of Japan and less than that of Africa!
It is heartbreaking for a poor man to see his loved one die in his arms because he has no money for medical treatment. Such situations were frequently played out in old Bollywood movies, but this is no Bollywood fantasy. Its the harsh reality of modern India. Its tragedies such as these which are the root cause of hatred of the rich.
At the same time one has to be aware that certain type of people will remain at the fringes of society. They will turn to crime and as our society gets more consumerist, crime could increase. It happened in the west. So far in India we have had far less crime than the developed countries because of a lack of materialism, but this is changing. The lifestyles that the rich lead are on vulgar display on television and on the streets and this does create unrealistic expectations amongst the poor.
But lets not talk of socialism or communism please. We’ve come a long way now. India’s middle classes are bursting at the seams. Around 300 million today and growing. May their tribe increase.
(All photos taken in Mumbai)
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