Compulsory Welfare

A few days ago, Atanu Dey from Berkeley wrote about his concept of the Compulsory National Service : Volunteerism is the answer to many of India’s problem. Some people have resources, others don’t. The former could spare some of their resources to help the latter. This exchange or trade would in time benefit those who receive and those who give as well.

A few days ago, Atanu Dey from Berkeley wrote about his concept of the Compulsory National Service :

 

It is my belief that a country is poor when welfare improving exchanges, or trades, do not take place… I believe that the answer to India’s problems must necessarily include compulsary military service…

 

 

Imagine India requires two years of military duty upon finishing high school or reaching the age of 19, whichever comes first. In these two years, every able bodied 19 year old is taught, among other things, discipline, hard work (both manual and intellectual), taught to live in a standard of material wellbeing that is common to all irrespective of how rich or poor their parents are, and so on. Imagine that after a couple of months of boot camp, they are assigned to work in all parts of India—mainly rural. Those who are literate, are assigned tasks that involve teaching the illiterates. Those who are from a farming background, teach urban kids how to work in a farm. All kids are given some physical training, sports training. All the camps are mixed in terms of language and economic status of the participants.

 

 

Each batch could take up some project or the other. It could be irrigation canal building, or road building, or some other infrastructure project. You could involve volunteers of all ages to associate themselves… At the end of these two years, some valuable lessons can be expected to be learnt by all… Once they finish their 2 years, they can go off and do whatever they were to do – go to engineering schools, medical schools, work in farms, or go back to their villages.

 

In Part II of his writing, he clarifies that it is not meant to be a proposal for a police state :

 

Volunteerism is the answer to many of India’s problem. Some people have resources, others don’t. The former could spare some of their resources to help the latter. This exchange or trade would in time benefit those who receive and those who give as well.

 

 

How does it feel to be a farmer? What is it like to live in a little mud hut and work hard in the fields the whole day long? How does it feel to have to draw your water before you can have a wash? How does it feel to be hungry for two whole days? How does one manage without access to phones and electricity?

 

 

Is there any value in experiencing the things that we would not normally experience? I believe that there is value. It is that of gaining an appreciation of the problems of others. It builds empathy. It has the capacity to move us to do things that could be welfare improving.

 

 

Tarun could learn pottery for a few months before moving on to wood-working, all the while teaching arithmetic and basic algebra to children of the village. BossLady could be learning vegetable farming and carpet weaving while teaching word processing to the teenagers. John could be learning the flute, and helping with primary health care. While doing this they would all be learning how 600 million of their compatriots live. When later on in their lives they have to make decisions that affect others, they would have the empathy to look beyond their own noses and see their actions as affecting others.

 

I agree with Atanu whole-heartedly. I think it makes a lot of sense.

Too High A Price

Atanu Dey, in his insightful essay – “Who Paid for My Education” – throws some light on the horrors of the Indian education system that makes the poor subsidize the rich ! Being educated entirely in India myself, I have often wondered what impact this would have on a nation like our’s. Now I know.

Atanu Dey, in his insightful essay – "Who Paid for My Education" – throws some light on the horrors of the Indian education system that makes the poor subsidize the rich ! :

India suffers from very low literacy even compared to other developing countries. Yet one gets to hear about the tremendous impact that Indian engineers and scientists have had around the world. This gives one the impression that the Indian schooling system works. I believe that that impression is wrong and that in fact the Indian school system is inefficient and is biased against the poor.

I estimate that my entire education in India, including a master’s in computer science, cost me less than $100 in today’s terms. I come from a middle class family and I am sure we could have afforded more than that. But I am sure that if the education had been priced at full cost, we could not have paid for it up front. Someone else paid for my education. And that is true for a very large number of people who are educated in India’s premier institutions…

Armed with all the advantages… (many) go to the US, never to return… If an educated person leaves, we lose what we have invested in his or her education. This would not be that great a loss if he or she had paid full price for the education received. But we don’t charge full price. We subsidize higher education. That is also not that great a crime. The problem is that we differentially subsidize higher education and neglect primary education.

Our constitution mandates primary education for all (see Article 8 of the Indian Constitution). Yet, 41% of children do not reach grade 5 in India… The most devastating impact of our dismal educational system is that we are condemning ourselves to a future of exceedingly low economic development. If there is one thing that growth and developmental economists have learnt, it is this: education is the most important factor in economic growth. Education has more impact on economic growth than natural resources, foreign investment, exports, imports, whatever.

Being educated entirely in India myself, I have often wondered what impact this would have on a nation like our’s. Now I know !

Is there a solution? Atanu offers one :

A brief solution to the problem of full-cost pricing is easy to state: Price all higher education at full cost. If a year of engineering school costs Rs 3 lakhs, price it at that. Then give loans to every student that needs it to pay the price. The loan is repayable upon employment and in terms commensurate with the level of employment. If you earn big dollars in the US, pay in big dollars. If you work as a doctor in a small rural village in India, pay small amounts in rupees. Essentially, once the loan system is put in place, you do away with subsidies as it becomes self-sustaining in 4 or 5 years.

The truth is out there for all of us to see. We can either ignore it or do something to change it for the better…

Small is Beautiful

Why are SMEs small? And why is Rural India poor? I think part of the problem lies in our not being able to use *indigenous* technologies to the extent possible. There is also no dearth of Business Management graduates in this country, with business schools mushrooming in every nook and corner. Yet, a very small percentage of them end up becoming entrepreneurs or take up employment with SMEs…

Rajesh Jain of Emergic.org raises 2 very important (and relevent) questions with regard to Rural India and SMEs (i.e. Small-Medium Enterprises) :

1. Why are SMEs small?
2. Why is rural India poor?

Rajesh’s analysis throws up some pertinent facts :

They are both very large markets and suffer from coordination failure ; There are huge information inefficiencies that exist in both, and significant gaps where Technology can help meet the needs.

In addition, I think part of the problem lies in our not being able to use *indigenous* technologies to the extent possible.

Very often, we make the mistake of trying to import a technology from a foreign land without adapting it suitably to local conditions. And then we blame extraneous factors when the implementation fails.

E.F. Schumacher advocates an alternative in his book – Small is Beautiful – where he profiles a number of “technologies”, developed locally, in response to local needs, that result in sustainable development and economic growth.

Closer home, I am told, a small unit in IIT(Bombay) is also trying to develop some home-grown solutions to home-grown industrial problems. So is the HoneyBee network of Professor Gupta in IIM(A).

There is another facet to this problem that has often bothered me : There is no dearth of Business Management graduates in this country, with business schools mushrooming in every nook and corner. Yet, a very small percentage of them end up becoming entrepreneurs or take up employment with SMEs.

I don’t know if the blame lies with an education system that is designed to produce “workers” not thinkers / leaders, or with our society for bringing up each generation with the belief that a “secure job” is the only way to a secure future, and that business is only for a fortunate few who have wealth in their family that they can afford to squander.

SMEs (and Rural India) would benefit tremendously with the influx of new ideas and learnings from these management graduates, if only they allowed themselves to contribute. And the students, in turn, would also get a chance to put their education to good use, instead of joining the corporate ladder on the 80th rung, hoping and wishing to make it to the top before they reach the ripe old age of 60 ! The way I see it, it would be a win-win situation. And the economy would benefit too.

Here’s hoping that we will see more such initiatives in the days to come…

Something Amiss

We were meant to work for a living, not a life. Yet, each passing day, we learn about another incident of how our “work” has eaten into the fabric of our lives, causing acidity, hypertension, stress, and now.. death! Something is seriously amiss…

Today’s "Times of India" carries two disturbing stories on its front page, both about work-related stress…

Airport witnessed a 7-hour hostage drama :

 

There was high drama at Sahar international air terminal on Saturday evening when Raj Namdeo, a constable of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) fatally shot his superior, dy. commandant A.R. Karanjkar, and took six of his colleagues as hostage… The seven-hour hostage drama ended in the early hours of Sunday with him surrendering, and the hostages being rescued.

 

Mumbai cop guns down family and himself :

 

An assistant inspector of police shot dead his wife and son before committing suicide at his flat in Chembur in north-east Mumbai on Sunday. In a suicide note addressed to his parents, Sawant said he was depressed since his stomach ailment was not showing any signs of improvement and that he was fed up with his job in the police department, which he had joined in 1988.

 

The second story offers an insight into possible causes (common to both situations, I am told by friends who know a little bit of army life in India) :

 

The incident has sent shockwaves through the city police. Several officers complained that there was no proper grievance redressal machinery in the police. They added that policemen were required to put in at least 12 hours of work daily and there was little appreciation of their work by their superiors. Besides, large-scale corruption in matters of postings and transfers has completely vitiated the atmosphere in the department.

 

Something is seriously amiss.

We were meant to work for a living, not a life. Yet, each passing day, we learn about another incident of how our "work" has eaten into the fabric of our lives, causing acidity, hypertension, stress, and now.. death!

Something is seriously amiss…