Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Dr. Vijay Mahajan, Shodh Yatras, and availability cascades

Dr. Vijay Mahajan, the Micro-finance maven behind BASIX,  is on a 'Shodh Yatra' and his riveting blog is here.

He asked some N.G.O workers 'for their views about what are key development problems facing the state? Productivity in agriculture was reducing and it was possible that in five years agriculture will collapse and farmers will land up being only wage labour for industry or services sector.  NREGA is having a negative impact on the agriculture.  Someone wondered if NREGA is a kind of four-step conspiracy – initially make agriculture unremunerative using human labour, then make larger farmers dependent on mechnisation, then withdraw or reduce outlay on NREGA, by which time not much demand is left for agricultural labour, and in the fourth step, the workers are captive for the industrial and service sectors. I recalled that this was not too different from the history of England during the Industrial Revolution.
I than asked what they thought of other government schemes like the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for paddy, and the food subsidy in terms of Rs 2 per kg rice. The response was there is no need of MSP if all the intended benefits – irrigation, seeds, extension services – reach the farmers.  MSP was also destroying varietal diversity as only a few varieties were purchased.  As for the subsidized rice scheme, the participants said the people never asked for Rs 2/Kg rice. These kinds of schemes are just making the poor farmers more dependent.  It was said that Government work is just target based and not attached closely with the real need of the common people. Change in the attitude of people is more important than meeting the target.
In the words of one civil servant [name withheld] – “This scheme is widely misused.  Middlemen collects hundreds of ration cards in return for the promise of giving 15 kg out of 35 kgs rice for free, and a bottle of liquor costing Rs 50. Thus the middleman spends Rs 80 per card.  The balance of 20 kg rice is sold in the market for Rs 16, thus earning Rs 320.  Thus the middleman makes Rs 240 per card. This then shared throughout the system.”  I told them , however, that wherever I had asked, people seemed to be getting their full entitlement of rice and at the specified price and appeared happy about the scheme. “Why would they tell you otherwise?” was the response.  Either I am naïve or they are cynical, or both. I leave it that.'

Dr. Mahajan's reference to the Industrialization of England puzzled me. Perhaps, the reference was to the Speenhamland system, ‘outdoor relief’, whereby (it was asserted) larger farmers had their labor inputs subsidized at the cost of weavers, artisans as well as small farmers who relied upon their own labor input. Furthermore, the suggestion might be that the Poor Law acted so as to maintain the pool of mill labor in place during slumps thus benefiting the ironmasters and mill-owners, as well as the petit bourgeois retailers, undertakers (Oliver Twist!) and so on- at the cost of other rate-payers.
I don’t understand how the analogy applies to the NREGA. The Poor Law, on the analysis above, served a good economic purpose by subsidizing labour inputs without adversely impacting mobility. On the contrary the self-employed weaver or small farmer subsidized the big employers who could exploit economies of scale. In other words, those with lower potential productivity gain subsidized those sectors where productivity could grow faster. Isn’t this a good thing? Moving people out of agriculture and cottage industry is the only way to get out of abject poverty and effect demographic transition in a sustainable and non-coercive way.
If NREGA and RTE and so on are very much better implemented and added to, why should not vast swathes of the rural hinterland not turn into welfare slums with ambitious youngsters, caught up in an availability cascade, aiming for employment in N.G.O’s to do things like revive ancient tribal languages and handicrafts and set up support groups for gay and lesbian goats and so forth?
Or has it already happened?

Silly question.
Of course it has. It's just that the impact is too small to be very noticeable. As with Gandhism, Bhoodan, Sampoorna Kranti, Intermediate Technology and other shite, this too is a case of India's poverty saving it from properly implementing a humane and ecologically sustainable model of development which would impoverish it much further and faster and, in consequence, fuck up the environment even more than would otherwise be the case, thus requiring even more availability cascades at every level of Public discourse.

I know nothing about the Shodh Yatra movement. On the one hand, going out and learning stuff for yourself and pooling that information is a good thing. Johhny Appleseed meets up Madhuri Mangoseed and Liberace Lycheeseed (what? everybody knows lychees are totally gay) and they exchange seeds and so you get greater fruit variety all over the place.
This reminds me, I read somewhere that 'theoria' in Greek was what happened when people traveled to other areas to witness the religious rites there and returned home and talked about how like maybe everything fits together you know?
Well, we know what happened to Greek theoria. An availability cascade started such that the solution to every problem was like carve a statue already. Once you get a lot of statues of naked dudes, you naturally get a bunch of pederasts lurking around them. They get to measuring dicks and that gets you to geometry, Pythagoras, Plato, Euclid, shit like that.

Which is okay if you're into stuff like statues of naked dudes and Mathematics and Philosophy and stuff. But what of this Shodh Yatra business? Is it not just a holier-than- thou availability cascade as meta-availability cascade as meta-meta-availability cascade with no fucking pause for some like statues to go up and some pederasts to gather and some apoorvata to occur?

Jus' sayin' is all.


  1. Dear Ustadji,
    I am reminded of your inimitable 'Indiglish' translation of Ghalib, or was it Bedil?, in your beautifoool essay-
    'Toast not the Shodh Yatra of a Micro Finance Maven

    'Nor boast of a titty wank from a bearded Begum'

  2. @Sanjay- missed you.
    Rhyming Maven with Begum?
    Clearly the Commonwealth Games has totally depraved the prosody of you two anna rent-boys.
    Sheila Dick-shit Aunty should take action.