Employment, Entitlement, and Empowerment
India, a highly populated country, is characterised by “hidden” or “disguised” unemployment. Woefully poor people cannot afford to be unemployed. They therefore end up doing low productivity jobs in Agriculture or informal service sector. The problem of poverty is closely linked to this problem of disguised unemployment. At least for able-bodied adults they are two sides of the same coin and the elimination of “surplus labour” is almost synonymous with the elimination of poverty. Productive employment generates income that allows workers to buy private goods.
All citizens, including the poor, are also entitled to an equitable share of basic public resources. The most important are Public Goods & Services that by definition cannot be bought separately by and/or sold separately to individuals. They have to be supplied publicly by the government. The classic public goods are (local) roads, police & public security, judiciary and national defence. Public health services are perhaps equally if not more important to the poor. These include control of communicable diseases, clean drinking water, sanitation & sewerage.
Entitlements also include a basic level of social security for the old, disabled and infirm, for children and those who are unable to get any work. A 21st century society cannot let its citizens starve or suffer from chronic hunger and government must provide food to the destitute.
A 21st century democracy must in fact go further and empower the poor who cannot to afford to pay for their education. Government must ensure that all its citizens are literate and all children attain some basic level of education, which we currently define as primary/elementary level. Education not only empowers the public but also ensures that the employed and can do the productive jobs that open up and helps to sustain economic growth over the long term.
Access to information is an important element of empowerment. The poor and their well wishers must have the right to information about expenditures that are routinely justified in their name. The Internet and Internet telephony can play a role in breaking the rural areas’ informational isolation. Excessive taxation, in the form of revenue sharing and charges for surplus (free) spectrum, hinder such a development.
The basic goals of economic development have remained unchanged for decades though their expression may have varied over time. We can restate them in the context of 21st century democratic society & economy, as,
• Eliminate Poverty
o Over the next 15 years or so. Under the current definition that is similar to the 2001, $1 a day definition of the World Bank.
o Poverty is closely linked with, “under-employment” or “disguised un-employment” and therefore to “higher productivity” jobs (rather than to make-work jobs)
• Human Development
o 100% literacy & primary education.
• Public Goods
o Basic public goods of reasonable quality and adequate quantity.
o Democratic access to pubic goods & services is a right of the Public
• Empowerment of the Poor
o All citizens must get basic human rights
o They must also fulfil their civic responsibility, for instance public cleanliness (not spitting, throwing trash)
The concrete objectives that must be fulfilled for achieving these goals include,
• High growth between 7% and 7.5% for the next two decades.
• Efficient, self-sustaining labour intensive growth.
o This focus must continue as long as there is ‘surplus labour’ or ‘disguised employment.’
o To be self-sustaining, these jobs must be ‘productive’ & ‘value creating’ in contrast to make work government employment.
• Supply of basic public goods & services.
o Basic, un-glamorous items like clean drinking water, roads, sanitation, sewerage & waste processing/disposal, communicable disease control, personal safety & security, rule of law.
• Government must also deal with positive (e.g. literacy) & negative externalities.
o Population stabilisation & environmental sustainability. Population takes a heavy toll on environmental resources (quality of water, air, forests, natural vegetation).
o Pollution of water sources by industrial effluents & sewage in scenic areas and future availability of water.
Achievement of these objectives requires a new economic policy framework based on a new development paradigm.