7 April 2016

Using Fire To Treat Burns

We regulate the cost of auto rides because that is a public service. It cannot be 'exorbitant', and the auto driver cannot use the advantages of 'information arbitrage' to charge 'free market' rates... We fix how much the driver can earn in a day, based on the social norm for what is a 'fair daily wage' for that work. This is justified in the interest of the Greater Good of society, since transportation is considered a public service, even if provided by private people. The same logic doesn't apply for education or health care or housing... Here we depend on capital and bow down to the norms set by capital for profit returns on their investment which decides who get access to these services and who doesn't and at what cost. That these services are also public services, and need to be affordable on par with auto rides is too much for our imagination.

Next is the idea of private profits and tax evasion. Most global corporations use the resources, people and infrastructure of developing countries, to create profits which are parked in tax havens (for reference, the top two sources of FDI into India are Mauritius and Singapore, and it's not even close beyond that)... They pay next to nothing in taxes in the host country (ironically America is also complaining about this), circumventing the spirit of taxation and it's role in human welfare.

These profits are pumped back into philanthropy, to feel good about themselves, earn a 'good name' and fame for 'benevolence'. The real problem is the idea of using capital and profit driven means to solve problems created by capital and profit driven means. 

The assumption that innovation is driven mainly by profit motive is a lie. It has no basis in truth. People invented and discovered far greater things than computers and drugs, long before ideas of capital even existed. For instance, we invented writing. People are creative because we are humans, we find solutions for things because we have minds and souls, not because we were born to crave for profits. So stop peddling lies in the name of private profits being the driver of all of human progress (money has a role in society, just not the current exaggerated version). If anything, the singular pursuit of profits is the root cause of a lot of problems, like poor health care addressed in the article below.


Water water every... Where?

We have predictably downgraded the public discourse on water use to IPL vs Farmers.

The issue, to illustrate which IPL is cited, is the Mary Antoinette approach to allocation of public resources. 

There are neatly maintained green lawns in various parts of Delhi, including the airport. Delhi is not naturally meant to be green during any time outside of the rains. Our desire for all this green stems from a need to feed the eyes of the rich, whose eyes are granted the restricted access, so that they can remark how green and 'beautiful' the airport looks. More importantly, it stems from the  philosophy of human development being equated to conquering nature, like building ski resorts in Dubai.

There is a water fountain outside Bangalore airport. There are swimming pools and bathrooms with water guzzling showers in fancy hotels. The same hotels will have placards announcing how green and responsible they are, requesting you to avoid washing towels - that is if you can avoid it, with the promise of feeding your self-important environmental conscience. 

If you have a watered ornamental garden, that is also a tiny item on the long list of avoidable luxuries that are subsidized by drought hit farmers and parched fields. Not all subsidies are in cash. Some are paid in kind, using the lives of the poor.

At the Paris climate summit we claimed that the Indian per capita carbon emission is only 1.6 tonnes/year, so our lifestyle is sustainable and indeed a role model. Compared to the obscene 17 tonnes/year emitted by the average American. What this hides is the huge disparity between the rich and the poor in India. 

The top 10% of urban India emit 15 times as much carbon as the bottom 10%, and 27 times the bottom 10% of rural India . The emissions of the rich is camouflaged and subsidised by the poor, both between nations and between peoples of the same nation. The same principle applies to land and water as well.

We are hiding behind the poor and feeling good about ourselves. Reminds me of what a friend used to say about averages - one foot on ice and one foot on fire, on an average it feels very comfortable. 

Water is a public resource, which means it belongs equally to everyone in this country. Why then are some people deprived and some blessed with plenty? What is the philosophy of governance that results in this inequity?

The solution is not a deep dive into the economics of IPL or blaming the bureaucracy, government and lack of technology for agrarian distress. We need to face reality - we cannot conquer nature. We must respect its bounty and remember that despite the bounty, resources are not infinite. There is finite amounts of everything that we can all share and thrive as a species. This would mean giving up supply-demand free-market theories for things like water, air, land, food and nature. This would mean using only what is needed, and not maximizing exploitation and consumption. This also means we cannot continue growth and consumption at some prefixed rate of 7%.

This would mean drawing up a balance sheet for water, and building a policy on how much we can each use, who gets to use, and how we recharge the ground water table. We need this to survive as a species.