Trickle Down Development

One of the critiques of Capitalism remains it’s famed ‘trickle down effect’.  Trickle-down economics is a theory that says benefits for the wealthy trickle down to everyone else. These benefits are usually tax cuts on businesses, high-income earners, capital gains, and dividends. This article explains briefly about the trickle down theory. The economic inequality in India has continued to rise post liberalization. The wealthy are accumulating more and more wealth. According to Oxfam 2018 report, India’s top 1% pocketed 73% of the total wealth generated in 2017!
During our intense classes as part of Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University, Dr. Mihir Shah used to severely criticize trickle down theory. This was followed by some intense discussions with my classmates about top to bottom approach in policy making. How India is run from Delhi and other cities, how policies are made without ever visiting a village, with a hope that things will eventually ‘trickle down’. This approach, clearly, has not worked and ,sadly, things have not changed much. Policy and Development sector is pretty much still a top to bottom game. With funds and policies trickling down from the top, and taking their own time to reach a poor woman in a remote village.
Villagers working under Paani Foundation’s Water Cup in a village in Maharashtra.
The first thing I realized after graduating was what I learnt in classes will only help me 10% of the times, rest is all on the job. Post graduation, over the last two years the dissonance I felt was huge. It was very easy to sit in AC classrooms and discuss why farmers are committing suicides, why we need Feminism, or what is the future of Indian democracy? But when I went, saw and experienced the reality I realized that our classrooms live in their own different reality, what in Ashoka we famously called, ‘a bubble’. I have realized India’s social, economic, and political issues discussed in India’s universities, are only partly true. The knowledge is in shackles and it needs to break out. The talks on gender, caste, and class sound good in cities but are seldom heard in villages. Things will take their own time to trickle down, hopefully.
People romanticize our villages, films like Swades are responsible for that. Things are not so rosy. I am always conscious of looking at our villages through an urban lens. But even from rural perspective, situation is grim. Our villages face issues of caste, gender, class on a daily basis. Therefore, I feel it as my responsibility to correct people, when they say caste doesn’t exist, women now have a lot of freedom in our country, etc. I care a lot about gender as an issue, but I feel helpless sometimes in villages. I see villages with Sarpanch as a woman, but being run by that woman’s husband or woman’s son. I see women getting married before they even turn 18, I see Dalits and other marginalized communities still living as landless and laboring hard to earn their two hundred rupees daily wage. I often wonder what more can I do, but then end up firefighting lazy bureaucrats and people full of apathy.
Government has consistently abdicated it’s responsibility of a public school system. The result is a large number of NGOs working for primary and secondary education. The gap between public schools and private schools only widening. The situation indeed is grim. The solution though has been more and more private schooling, Where’s the trickle down?
Two years since graduating I have worked with a political party, with a Member of Parliament, and now working out of an NGO. The learnings have been different in all these cases. Till recently I thought I had good knowledge of India’s problems until I visited our villages, spoke with farmers, saw the rural politics. Farmers are growing sugarcane in a drought prone area, despite knowing well that it is very harmful. Because it’s kind of easy money, requires less effort. No academic article I came across pointed to this fact. I always wondered why are they growing sugarcane, only to find a treacherous cycle that exists designed by the sugar lobby. Farmers resort to chemical fertilizers, the way we consume junk food. It’s easy and avoids the efforts of making a compost. Our Government is gladly giving subsidies worth of Rs. 70,000 crores to Fertilizer industry! Farm loan waivers are promised by our politicians for every elections, which end up benefiting the rich farmers, never the poor or the landless. Every time, there is some crop loss due to weather, farmer bodies are fast to take it up with Government. Farmers being a huge vote bank, Government duly obliges.
We have one of the best Constitutions in the world, and we have been successful to take democracy to our villages. A lot of our policies are good in theory, but really shoddy in implementation. Policies get lost and bruised by the time they trickle down. Pratap Bhanu Mehta in this moving article has called India, ‘the too late nation’. We suddenly realize that Government has done nothing when 22 people die in a stampede in a Mumbai station, yet we elect MPs who don’t attend Parliament, or only go there to protest and walk out. We realize our healthcare is shoddy when kids die in a Government Hospital in Gorakhpur, yet we continue to elect people who only care about identity politics. The only time we hold our Government accountable is once in five years, the rest of the time, live in our own bubbles, divorced from the reality. We are proud to be ‘apolitical’, which in my opinion is a way of saying ‘I don’t care’. We are indeed a too late nation,we only wake up when we realize things have not trickled down. Only if the taxpayers were as angry about their taxes going to potholes, as they were about their taxes going to JNU, India would have been a different nation. We wait, wait for the rich to realize that they need to trickle down what they earned, and wait for the Government to trickle down the development.
And despite all this there’s some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.  🙂

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