Saturday, July 04, 2009

It’s the stupid, economy

Just to let all you corporate types know: I don’t understand the economy. Before you go feeling all superior and contemptuous, let me state that I bet I’m not the only one. Recognising that a business paper is probably not the most sympathetic forum in which to complain about this, but pressing on regardless, here’s my confusion. (I’m going to go very tentatively here, making only sweeping generalisations and uninformed pronouncements.)

My tiny little liberal artsy brain understands it thus. The big idea is that we must have ever-burgeoning demand in order to have ever-burgeoning economic growth, on the assumption that growth is the measure of an economy’s, and therefore a nation’s, health. This means we want various sectors of the economy to grow, so that all the people employed in those sectors will get paid more, so that they can buy more, so that we can increase industry to produce more goods and services that people can buy, so that we have ever more sectors on which ever more people are ever more precariously dependent.

Baffling, but okay. The problem is, is anyone coordinating all these sectors in all these countries so that we keep the global health of the planet intact? Doesn’t the present model run out of steam at the point where not only are resources scarce but the planet is also becoming disinclined to support life as we know it, furnished with amenities like drinking water and big blingy handbags?

Say we want cars because auto-making generates lots of jobs, by which people get paid and can buy things. The fact that cars require lots of infrastructure by way of roads and fuel stations and parking and walkways to the parking etc doesn’t enter the calculation. Auto makers simply knuckle down and go hell-for-leather producing as many cars as they possibly can, to make sure that at the end of the year they can show growth in their industry. To a numbskull such as myself, untrammelled growth in the car industry improves our lives in the following way: choked roads, parking hassles, pollution and spiralling health care costs. Doesn’t that sound wrong?

By the same token, the world’s losses are measured in dollar terms. A colossal storm devastates New Orleans or coastal Orissa or Bangladesh, and we shake our heads over the multimillion dollars’ worth of damage that was done. Amitabh Bachchan gets injured in a film shoot and we talk about the crores of advertising he represents. Michael Jackson dies and media goes insane. No, wait, that’s different: the media are insane.

How come money always comes first, before the health, safety and peace of citizens? How come we live in a cesspit like Delhi, where effluent-poisoned water and air ensures that we eat poisonous vegetables, and feel thrilled by the economic growth represented by the newest gadget we’ve got? I suppose it’s a good distraction from the possibility of three-eyed, six-horned babies becoming a common feature of the population.

I’m all for research and innovation which can be put to good use to better people’s lives, but by better life I mean greener grass, purer water, more nutritious and better distributed food, clean air and fuel. I’d be happy to pay the price by wearing the same clothes for longer, keeping my basic phone until it really dies, and taking public transport. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing to live with a little bit less.

I can just hear the sound of a thousand eyeballs rolling. What do I know? Mercifully, the only thing I’m expected to get right is grammar and punctuation. Feel free to send me irritated mail about it. I’ll correct it and send it back.

11 comments:

Space Bar said...

One of the indications that I've been spending too much time on Facebook: I looked around for a button that said 'Like' and was puzzled when I couldn't find it.

Bindu said...

a real classy piece ! enjoyed reading.

Anonymous said...

I so totally agree with you, but how do u make others understand the need of the hour. I live about 15 kms from my workplace and I take the public transport while commuting to and from work. But there are people around who make it sound like as though it is below my level to do so?!!??!? i mean, why is it so bad caring for the environment in the little ways i can. why can't the person next to me do their 2 bit???

toooldtoboogietooyoungtodie said...

Not that others haven't tried this line of reasoning before. The Economists call it Small is Beautiful, stupid! And the Politicians, Gandhism, even more stupid!!

Jon said...

its worse than you think:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_streetcar_scandal

Shrabonti said...

Brilliant. Thanks.

dipali said...

So true, so true.

Tara said...

fantastic piece - wish the REAL numbskulls who run our world would read it.

Winnowed said...

Well said. Unfortunately most human beings are so incredibly selfish and lazy that change is so very difficult to achieve.

shrutified said...

Excellent column. Would laugh if it weren't so overwhelmingly true.
- shruti

AMIT said...

I enjoyed reading much.

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