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Instead of making the rich poorer lets make the poor richer

May 25, 2007

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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Education in India favours the rich
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Child domestic workers’ plight

14 Comments leave one →
  1. mumbairamki permalink
    May 26, 2007 1:13 pm

    Good write up !
    But just one point m,issing .
    There are enough schools in urban areas to cater to the needs of the poor people ,but the quality of the schools are quintessentially dismal low ! I think it would be better if we check the statistics of school droupouts among the poor .

  2. roger permalink
    May 27, 2007 4:47 am

    I think it is the beginning of social unerst.
    Historically, when countries have had rapid economic growth without equitable social distribution policies there has been revolution. To take one example, the oil boom of 1973 made the Iranian economy grow rapidly–in the absence of redistributive policies this led to revolution in 1979. Or you can look at pre Revolution Russia.
    What the government should do is really crack down on the rich business class, force them to pay thier taxes, and use the wealth to create social welfare. Without social welfare, a country with 700 million poor out of a population of 1 billion will not survive. The day when the poor take what they want is not far away. I feel sorry for those deluded souls who think that India is the next superpower! It is probably the next Yugoslavia!

  3. October 12, 2007 1:04 pm

    yes we should make the poorer richer but government should opt the system which is fast, reliable and implemented in a right spirit.

  4. Raj permalink
    January 1, 2008 3:19 am

    I agree with the views expressed by Roger that massive social unrest in our country is not too far away.

    Whether we make the rich poorer or the poor richer does not really matter.What matters that is we must bridge the real as well as apparent inequality between the two to a level that is manageable.If we don’t,then we are headed for serious problems.The problems that we face today would be nothing when compared to what would happen if we allow things to drift too far.The consequences would be disastrous.The result would be extremely high levels of crime and general anarchy if we are ‘lucky’ and something like the French Revolution with terrible bloodshed if we are not or if the deprived sections organise themselves.

    Infact I think that the latter has already started to happen in the ‘Red Corridor’.The self-styled ‘revolutionaries’ are growing stronger by the day and the reasons are not too far to seek.If things continue like this,those forces will only grow stronger and may even spread their reach to the urban areas.

    Both capitalism and socialism have failed miserably in the world,though socialism has had more equitable results.The countries that have the highest development indicators in the world are those that have allowed capitalism but have ensured a very strong social safety net and equitable access to healthcare,education and housing.It is a model that we must emulate.

    Nita,thanks for juxtaposing the vulgar consumption of the filthy rich and the plight of the destitute.Any visitor to our country is stunned by the contrast between the two.The filthy rich treat the poor with contempt and live in their own ultra-luxurious world.The hatred that the poor have for the rich cannot be felt by the ‘middle class’.Though such people may not live extravagantly,they may find themselves at the receiving end if trouble breaks out.The rich can afford to protect themselves,they may even flee the country at the first sign of trouble but the middle class cannot.It would be in their own interest if they involve themselves in the uplift of the poor instead of trying to ape the lifestyles of the filthy rich.

  5. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 1, 2008 6:09 am


    I am happy to join you in what seems to be your mission for the new year. I have already contributed my mite on the other thread (“The poor in our country simmer…”), so I won’t repeat myself here. We need to take serious heed of what Roger has said above.

    The only thing I would add is that, to think that the poor can be “made rich” by altruism or by mushy sentimentality is a pipedream.

    A Happy New Year to All.

  6. January 1, 2008 6:58 pm

    I came to this thread and realised that I had not replied to any of the comments. Well, it’s a bit late I think but I want to thank you all for your responses. Certainly, educational opportunites for all, and good healthcare for all has to be our country’s goal.

  7. Raj permalink
    January 1, 2008 8:30 pm

    I wish everyone a happy New Year!

    Thanks for your comments on the other thread.I think we should merge the responses to the two threads,if such a thing is possible.

    // I am happy to join you in what seems to be your mission for the new year //

    Well,Vivek,I was shocked by this article by Harsh Mander in the Sunday Magazine of ‘The Hindu’.

    I am a fan of ‘The Hindu’ for the sheer quality and seriousness of its journalism (with special mention of journalists like P.Sainath),though I am not happy about its links with the marxists.I think the Chennai based paper provides more information about the farm suicides in Vidharbha than many English papers based in Mumbai,going by their internet editions.

    I was pained by the level of deprivation in many parts of the country.I have not visited many places outside the four Southern states and Puducherry,though I have seen the level of deprivation in some of the rural and urban areas of these states.But the condition of people in some of the ‘backward’ regions of our country is truly mind-numbing.

    I wonder whether the dawn of a new year has any meaning for them at all when there seems to be no hope.

  8. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 1, 2008 9:24 pm


    I, too am a great fan of The Hindu (and its affiliated fortnightly, Frontline). I consider The Hindu to be the only serious, respectable and relatively “visible” English-language daily newspaper left in India. I regret the fact that it has no edition in the western region, and if you do persuade the local newsagents to deliver it, even a day late, the prefer to supply the Delhi rather than the Chennai edition.

    I don’t understand your aversion to its links with the Marxists. Surely their point of view should be taken into consideration as much as the opinions of the centre, the right, and the extreme lunatic fringe who all get represented. While most other newspapers dogmatically espouse any one philosophy, The Hindu seems to give a more balanced perspective. And it maintains a decorous distinction between information and opinion.

  9. Raj permalink
    January 2, 2008 12:00 am

    It feels good to know that there are admirers for my fauvorite newspaper even in areas where it is not available.Serious journalism (something that ‘The Hindu’ and its sister publications have never deviated from) always commands respect.

    Though nothing can beat ‘The Hindu’ when it comes to balanced reporting and analysis,it has always been a slightly left leaning newspaper,which infact,has endeared it even more to its readers.But,of late,there has been a slight (but perceptible to its dedicated readers) shift in its policies towards the Marxists.When you love something for a long time because of what it does,you do not want it to change in any way.

    I feel that ‘The Hindu’ should always remain dedicated to its core readers and remain a balanced,neutral,secular(despite the name),thought-provoking newspaper.It should not give something that acts as a stick to its opponents to beat it with.

    This is because its readers have nothing else to turn to as most of the other English broadsheets are broadsheets only in name,but trivialist and sensationalist in content.I think the term ‘broadloid’ would suit them better.

    ‘The Hindu’ should continue its balanced and neutral policies and also continue to act as the conscience-keeper of its readers in an age of increasing socio-economic disparity and flawed policies that favour a few filthy rich at the expense of the vast majority.

  10. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 2, 2008 2:20 am


    //…secular (despite the name)…//

    Your parenthesis betrays a pitfall of many thinking people…”presentism” in the interpretation of history.

    The Hindu was so named when (1878) the word, in English, meant merely “Indian” (of course how appropriate or biased this was is a separate subject of debate).

    As far as I am aware, the word in its present sense — though not as vehemently — was first used by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago (1896). He was probably the first Hindu (in today’s sense) to call himself that.

    One does not have to be apologetic about the name of the paper being what it is. Nor is it necessary to feel guilty about the twist it has acquired in recent time. That would be like us apologising for the Swastika because the Nazis distorted its meaning.

  11. Raj permalink
    January 2, 2008 10:47 am

    I do not feel apologetic about the name of my fauvorite newspaper.As you have clearly explained,the name had a totally different meaning when the paper was launched.

    I do not feel guilty,but detest the fact that the name has been usurped by organisations that stand for bigotry,quite contrary to what the faith stands for.Some time back,one bigot called ‘The Hindu’ the most un-Hindu newspaper in the country.As if they had patented the use of the name.It’s like the Taliban calling all Muslims who do not subscribe to their fanatical views as un-Islamic.

    I feel sad whenever someone who does not know what the paper stands for thinks that it stands for a toned down view of what the fanatics believe.(In one Tamil movie,a bigot who belongs to another community is shown as expressing his anger on ‘The Hindu’,completely unaware of its views.)

  12. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 2, 2008 11:50 am


    //…the name has been usurped by organisations that stand for bigotry…//

    This is neither the first nor the only time that such a thing has happened, either in India or anywhere else. And the motivations, too, can differ. Sometimes it is bigotry, sometimes it is the so-called intellectual property rights (whether in the form of patents, trademarks or copyrights).

    You must be aware of the story of the legal battle between Warner Brothers and the Marx brothers. WB made the film “Casablanca”, which became a tremendous hit. When the Marx brothers announced their plans to make a film called “A Night in Casablanca”, WB issued a notice through their attorneys seeking to restrain this, claiming that they owned the name “Casablanca”. Groucho Marx retorted, saying that he would sue WB for using the word “Brothers” in their name!

  13. Raj permalink
    January 2, 2008 11:23 pm

    Nice one! I was not aware of that.I do not watch too many movies.

    Speaking about names,I have only recently found out that there is another person called Raj in this blog who posts comments and he (or she) might have been in this blog even before I discovered it.I am fairly new to this blog.

    I do not know if you can differentiate between the two of us based on our writing styles.

  14. October 22, 2008 9:22 am

    You don’t make the poor richer by making the rich poorer. Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent vice of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries. Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is – the strong horse that pulls the whole cart.

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