Seems like you can’t open the web browser these days without seeing yet another story based on cherry-picked information on how nations must ditch all social spending and cut taxes on the rich in order to be "competitive". Yesterday’s thumbsucker along these lines comes from the New York Times‘ Jim Yardley:
JHABUA, India — Inside the drab district hospital, where dogs patter down the corridors, sniffing for food, Ratan Bhuria’s children are curled together in the malnutrition ward, hovering at the edge of starvation. His daughter, Nani, is 4 and weighs 20 pounds. His son, Jogdiya, is 2 and weighs only eight.
For the governing Indian National Congress Party, which has staked its political fortunes on appealing to the poor, this persistent inability to make government work for people like Mr. Bhuria has set off an ideological debate over a question that once would have been unthinkable in India: Should the country begin to unshackle the poor from the inefficient, decades-old government food distribution system and try something radical, like simply giving out food coupons, or even cash?
Where is this NYT story set? In Jhabua.
Where is Jhabua? In Madhya Pradesh state, which is currently run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. Bear in mind that India’s states have somewhat more autonomy from the central government than do those of the US; they are almost countries in their own right, and many were kingdoms prior to the British invasion of the 18th century.
What is the BJP like? They’re arch-conservative free-market worshipers; they also controlled the perennial starvation case that is the state of Uttar Pradesh from 1991 to 2007. Bhopal, which may remember was poisoned by Union Carbide in a December 1984 accident that resulted in at least 15,000 deaths and long-term devastation of the local environment, is the capital of Madhya Pradesh.
Meanwhile, as Greg Palast noted back in 2005, the cities that are driving India’s economy — Bangalore and the like — are all in Socialist-run states like Karnataka and Kerala, which have free universal education and tough labor unions:
A few years ago, I dropped in on a fishing village in Kerala in Southern India. Most fishermen worked from motorless dug-out log boats. Their language is Malayalam, but a large banner slung between two coconut trees announced in English, "WordPerfect applications class today." After they brought in the catch, the locals practiced programming on cardboard replicas of keyboards.
What made this all possible was not capitalist competitive drive (there was no corporate "entrepreneur" in sight), but the state’s investment in universal education and the village’s commitment to development of opportunity, not for a lucky few, but for the entire community. The village was 100% literate, 100% unionized, and 100% committed to sharing resources through a sophisticated credit union finance system.
This was the community welfare state at its best. Microsoft did not build the schools for programmers — the corporation only harvested what the socialist communities sowed.
The economist Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize in 1998 for predicting that Southern India, with its strong social welfare state, would lead the economic advance of South Asia — and do so without the Thatcherite sleight-of-hand of pretending that riches for the few equates to progress for the many.
Don’t bother looking for quotes from Professor Sen in Mr. Yardley’s NYT piece. He’s not saying what Mr. Yardley’s bosses want to hear — or to see passed along to us. At least not on economics, anyway.