V. 36: No. 7-8 July-August 2008 #422-423
Editorial, p. 1-3
"Growth for Whom?", Ashok Mitra, p. 4
"Capitalism, Freedom and Democracy," Prabhat Patnaik, p. 16
"Where Knowledge is Free," Sudeep Banerjee, p. 29
"Rationalising Rationing The Curious Case of Economic Evaluationsin Health," Oommen C. Kurian, p. 37-63
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This issue of Social Scientist carries the texts of three memorial lectures: one in memory of renowned journalist Prem Bhatia delivered by Ashok Mitra; the second in memory of the founding editor of Social Scientist, Mathew Kurian, delivered by Prabhat Patnaik; and the third the Tagore Memorial Lecture delivered by Sudeep Banerjee at IIT Kharagpur.
Ashok Mitra's lecture tided "Growth for whom?", focuses on an issue recognised but consistently underplayed by the government and a section of the intelligentsia. This is that high and accelerating growth notwithstanding, the pattern of growth and the distribution of its benefits give much cause for concern. There are a number of features of recent Indian growth that merit attention. First, that growth is unevenly distributed across the principal sectors and regions, with an unusually high share of it being contributed by services. Second, that despite high GDP growth, employment has not been growing in the dynamic sectors. Sectors like services account for a much smaller share in employment relative to their contribution to GDP. This implies that a large proportion of those employed are concentrated in the slowly growing, low-productivity sectors. Finally, that a consequence of all this is that despite long years of high GDP growth a very large proportion of Indians is desperately poor.
These imbalances, argues Mitra, are an inevitable outcome of the strategy pursued in the liberalisation era. The promise that the benefits of high growth when achieved would trickle down to the poor has been belied. Yet, change in the form of a reversal of these kinds of policies is slow in coming because those who benefit from this growth process are vocal and influential and have globally strong backers. However, even they have to recognise that India is a democracy and elections need to be fought and won by reforming parties as well.
This has resulted in a policy of 'soft intervention' by the State, involving programmes such as the 'total' literacy campaign, the national rural health scheme, the national rural electrification programme, the national highway programme, and the rural employment guarantee scheme. But the ethos is such that once announced these programmes are not implemented properly. If these
Social Scientist, p. 2
trends are not recognised and corrected, argued Mitra, the distant thunder of discontent that is being heard today may explode in the heartland of affluent India.
Patnaik's contribution is concerned with the ways in which these and related processes of development during the years of globalization constrict the democratic gains that India has achieved during the post-Independence years. Patnaik begins with the idea that the spontaneous nature of capitalism as a system, with its immanent laws of development, objectifies the individual's role in the economic sphere and therefore limits freedom and democracy. This also means that though the State seeks to mould capitalism and influence its direction of movement, this effort is in the final analysis only temporarily successful, being subverted by the inherent dynamic of the system. The limit to political praxis under capitalism results in what he terms "the destruction of politics".
A corollary is that "all the traditional virtues assigned to the bourgeois order, namely democracy, political choice, individual "subjectivity" and hence freedom, are, paradoxically, conspicuous by their absence within this order." This implies that any effort to reform capitalism can succeed only if it is also an effort to transcend capitalism as a system, to move to socialism which "means essentially a break away from the "spontaneity" of the economic system", realised by the shift from private to social ownership and the creation of a State "that is neither opaque nor standing apart, that is directly influenced by society, that is therefore authentically "democratic", that almost constitutes a part of society to start with, and that progressively dissolves itself into society, a process of dissolution that is captured by the term 'the withering away of the State'".
This transition, Patnaik argues, while required even in countries like India tends to be much more complex in these circumstances for a number of reasons. To start with, as in the advanced capitalist societies, these countries too are afflicted by the "spontaneity" of the system which "objectifies" the individual. Secondly, the domestic bourgeoisie, arriving late on the historical scene, has to form alliances with the metropolitan bourgeoisie and with domestic feudal elements, so that far from any authentic democracy being realized, even the prevailing institutions of bourgeois democracy become difficult to sustain. Finally the consolidation of the bourgeois State occurs in a situation where capitalism cannot acquire for itself the broad base of social support which metropolitan capitalism, with its access to a global empire could, necessitating a rolling back of the bourgeois democratic gains of the people. In these circumstances the task of defending and building freedom and democracy becomes part of the effort of transcending capitalism.
Sudeep Banerjee's focus is the change that is under way in the educational
Social Scientist, p. 3 Editorial
sector of the country during the globalisation years. Starting from the growing tendency of looking at education as a mere means to amassing wealth, he turns to the issue of the financing of education and its impact on the nature of education; that is, the relationship of the relevance and quality of education with the source of its finances. He is in particular concerned with the effects of ongoing effort to transfer the burden of financing education from the State to the students and their parents, by not just shifting in favour of privately sponsored education, but from private education rendered as a philanthropic activity to that delivered in pursuit of profit.
In the process the questions of equity and access have been subordinated to the issue of redressing the supply-demand mismatch which is to be taken care of by the market forces. The casualty is the role of education in individual fulfilment, societal cohesion, nation building and the advancement of learning. The price being paid is that certain disciplines with commercial potential are being privileged over others irrespective of academic or social imperatives. This has adverse implications for the mass of the people in this country, because if you produce only coolies and managers for the market, you do not generate organic intellectuals who ask questions and seek answers on behalf of the people.
The article by Oommen Kurian examines a similar issue in a related area. It looks at a tendency that has accompanied the privileging of private over public health provision: a global shift from ideas of comprehensive care to a narrow notion of "selective health care". This has been ensured through the growing influence of the World Bank on health policy in developing countries, because of its ability to allocate large resources to support health provision. Besides promotion of the private sector, this has led to the view that cost-containment is the sole criterion of efficiency in health expenditures, and anything comprehensive is by definition cost ineffective. To justify that position, health system evaluators use technically flawed and ethically barren methods influenced by neoliberal economic thinking. According to Kurian, if public health is practiced in the true, broad sense, then the economic and public health measures of value will be at odds with one another. This implies that the use of such methods would invariably have an adverse impact on the well-being of the people.
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