I would like you to imagine a operation theatre. A patient in his 40s is lying on the table. He has suffered a heart attack. What do you think the doctor is going to do? Will he recommend exercise and diet to the patient or will he operate ? It’s not hard to imagine what will happen next. It’s most likely that the Doctor is going to fix what is wrong and then later on when the patient is fine suggest some lifestyle changes.
The plight of 200 million Indian is not very different. They have an emergency. They are in the operation theatre. But what is our response? Are we doing a emergency procedure? Or are we recommending them of exercise. Do you think our 200 million patients will respond to exercise?
Our world is a very unequal world, so much inequality that some have too much and a vast majority has none. We are probably the only specie in animal kingdom that has this levels of inequality.
Lets talk about india. We are Largest milk producer,self sufficient in food grains and also one of the largest world economy. And we still have hunger deaths. Its unbelievable. It’s so baffling that it seems like there is a conspiracy to keep so many millions poor and impoverished in our country. Or may be its our gross incompetence to provide a good quality of life for everyone and to support our most vulnerable citizens.
So we thought farming will lift millions out of poverty. Now we know that it’s a very difficult job. Our productivity is poor, irrigation tough and most of the land belongs to the rich farmers.The poorest most often are landless and therefore can at most work as farm labourers.
Wage labour has also not helped in income redistribution. There are not enough jobs that can provide year long employment with certainty. Jobs won’t help the poorest of the poor because there are very few jobs.
Trickle down economics has failed too. Lack of control over means of production meant that poorest could not participate to reap its benefits if any. Markets also burst the bubble that effort and hard work will lead to wealth. As we see around people who work the hardest and add most value to society- care givers, teachers ,nurses, farmers get paid a fraction of what investment bankers, hedge fund managers etc get paid. Rights based approach also has its own limitations. People don’t want a right to the house. They want a house.
So what is the way out. I propose we go back to basics and do some out of the box thinking.Let’s look at some novel ways of income re distribution.
What if were to de link labour with wage. What if were to completely junk the idea that poorest have to work in order to earn a income.
This by itself is not a new idea but something we forgot. Not long ago this was the norm.
Anthropology studies have told us that foraging society used to share the spoils of the hunt with everyone. Everyone got a share irrespective of whether they participated in the hunt or not as a right and not as charity.
In 1796 philosopher Thomas Paine also suggested something similar. He argued that some money should be paid to each and everyone as a ground rent since earth and it’s resources belong to every human being.
It will not me to long to convince you that everyone in the world should have access to some minimum quantity of water irrespective of whether they can pay for it or not. Water is such a basic need. Today money is as basic necessities as water.
We can all agree that poor is someone who doesn’t have money. We have tried everything but given them money. So why don’t we give them money?
A lot of us believe poor will make dumb decision. We believe that if poor were to given money they will just blew it on alcohol, tobacco etc. But before we reach to any conclusions for a moment let’s imagine what does it mean to be ultra poor. Think about it. You are trying to do something important in a state where your mind is constantly somewhere else. You have no bandwidth. You can’t focus on future. You are worried about today, about the next meal. It’s like a computer that is running multiple program and the screen freezes. It’s not a bad computer it’s just burdened. So instead or tinkering with the software why can’t we add some memory.
Money can provide memory.
When you are poor with little cash to spend you cannot fully participate in society. You cannot reciprocate. You cannot migrate becauae it requires money for transportation. You are stuck.
A pure and simple unconditional cash transfer to the ultra poor for 3-4 years will help bring them to a point where they can start to participate in society. With today’s technology is easy and cheaper to send this money to the bank account.
However we have to remember that poor are not beggars. We have to do this in the spirit of trust and dignity with no strings attached. Not as a dole but something where they have a rightful share. Not telling them what to do. Just give the cash and see magic happens.
Evaluation studies in India and Africa has shown lots of promises around unconditional cash transfers . They have improved incomes,health and mental well being. People have built assets, became more entrepreneurial and invested in health and education. Domestic violence went down. Kids started to go to schools.
There has been zero effect on alcohol or tobacco consumption.
I believe we are all interconnected and one big family. Vasudev kutumbukam. We can’t be happy we if someone in our family doesn’t have enough to eat. I believe income redistribution is our moral responsibility to create a level playing field.
So how about giving poor a break from poverty by giving some money without any strings attached. See what happens. As studies have shown we might be in for a pleasant surprise.
Poverty is not lack of character,ability or will power. It’s lack of cash. Let’s fix it.