The Indian caste system- economics or religion?
As a responsible Hindu I feel im my religious duty to add to the nonsense written about the caste system by making a couple of points, not I believe, highlighted elsewhere-
1) India was a mixed regime economy with a metropolitan cash nexus parallel to a system of non-monetized specialisation & division of labour where agicultural land and surpluses were periodically redistributed according to some ill-defined communal collective bargaining which more often than not meant whole sub-castes (endogamous occupational groups called jatis) voting with their feet. During exogenous monetary shocks/ natural disasters the unmonetized jati system of specialisation and exchange was the default value. It kept things ticking over and allowed the clearing of new land and rural settlement with low capital investment but the full complement of services. Theoretically, endogamy was supposed to facillitate the diffusion of new techniques of production and thus raise productivity. Religion tends to say what IS is right. God wants it that way. Vedic Hindu religion was particularly suitable for this because it emphasised the equality of all paths to the deity- i.e. the notion that utterly opposite codes of behaviour (customary morality) were equally valid. This lead to the notion that every occupational jati was engaged in an imitatio dei- i.e. the potter feels God is a potter & hence derives a psychic satisfaction from making pots, the thief reckons God is the ultimate thief etc. Hence each jati reckons it alone is supreme because it is wholly engaged in God's quintessential activity. Thus each jati develops its own spirituality and (the inevitable corrollary) coercive system.
2) The metropolitan cash nexus, when supported by State power used for extraction of surpluses, does not in its expansion dissolve the default system, but leeches resources off it causing it to crash. This is because the initial rise in productivity incident on monetisation is ultimately swamped by ecological degradation, fiscal incentive incompatability, and Social Capital failure arising from collapse of public good provision. The metropolitan cash nexus esperiences a tulip bust and learns fear of a more fundamental collapse affecting every aspect of Socialisation. Fear of the crash means the metropolitan cash nexus ultimately resurrects jati as varna (legitimating ideology for social stratification).
3) Only if the State becomes effective in provision of public goods at the village level can the crashing default system be expunged from the directory. However, if the State is dependent on its survival on the crisis of the default system- i.e. it is a protest against what it perpetuates- this aint gonna happen.
4) Though jati type caste appears to be, under ideal conditions, a co-operative solution that would dominate competitive solutions- giving rise to dreams of 'Ramrajya'. Gandhian village swaraj, Buddhist Socialism, Vandana Siva styleEco-Feminism etc- this is just a pipe dream. It is not productivity that rises but the amount of time people spend in 'consciousness raising' and other such magical practices. Sure, this may attract outside funding- but it aint sustainable as a universal panacea unless they like hit upon a better class of recreational drug or find a way to intensify orgasm or something.
5) Caste in present day India is about people from larger jatis taking power by claiming to speak for smaller jatis that have, arbitrarily, been adjudged to be of equally low status. It represents a redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest in these arbitrarily defined 'castes'. This is not done in a Pareto efficient way. Rather there is a huge and growing deadweight cost to the whole economy. The rich can escape this, because, in India, increased life chances equals increased elasticity of supply and demand (i.e. the rich can always get what they want by circumventing the system. Not just a Black Economy, India has always had (infinitely many!) Anti-States, Anti-Commons, Anti-Relgions (as well as Anti-Anti-States etc) simoultaneous memberships of which is the path to thrive.
5) Some social customs can (only if everyone is very good in the first place) internalise externalities, improve Schelling focal point choices, turn prisoner dillemmas into positive sum games etc, etc. But why bring caste into it? The English word caste dervies from the Portugese and Spanish notion that degree of miscegenation determines 'nature' and hence ought to determine social status. Does anyone believe that sort of racial nonsense anymore?
6) One good point about jati-dharma (caste based religion) is that it recognises that from the moral point of view there is a huge range of choices which are equally acceptable. However,some modern Hindus believe that their own vegetarian jati-dharma is the universal morality and seek to convert everybody to an irrational and socially very costly (and potentially environmentally disasterous) code of conduct. But the same point applies to Islam, missionary Christianity, Eco-feminism, Marxism, Hitler worship etc.
Caste is crap. However economic analysis of its causes and consequences should continue so as to prevent history books from spouting silly conspiracy theories- the Brahmins did it! No, it was the British. Actually, you're both wrong- it was the lizard people from Planet X.