Talks about ‘minority takeover’ a way to ‘demonise a population’, says Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee

Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee.

Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee.   | Photo Credit: Rohit Jain Paras

Minorities in India and the U.S. are ‘actually minorities’ and nowhere close to being dominant, the economist says at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet

Observing that minorities in India and the U.S. are “actually minorities” and nowhere close to being dominant, Nobel laureate Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee said that he does not feel that it is a “real fear there is going to be a Muslim takeover of India”.

He said that the talk that “one hears at least from the fringes of the ruling party about the demography of the Muslim population.. is really just a way to demonise a population”.

“You could imagine a context when these are two equal groups, and you worry about the other group becoming too powerful. This is just not realistic here,” the Nobel laureate explained, citing the example that African Americans and Mexicans in the U.S. were minorities and were relatively economically and educationally deprived than much better-off economically powerful majority.

The Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was speaking to author Udayan Mukherjee at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet at the Victoria Memorial Hall grounds late on Monday evening, where he touched on a host of other issues such as migration and whether the country could be in recession while discussing about his book Good Economics for Bad Times.

‘Nothing to suggest we are not in recession’

Asked whether the country was passing through a recession, Mr. Banerjee said that there was no way of knowing and “we were just picking up the symptoms.”

“We have really no way of knowing. It’s not that this question has an answer, and somebody is hiding it. Nobody really knows. We are just picking up the symptoms from different sides,” he said.

Pointing out that the country’s statistical apparatus was essentially incapable of capturing short-term changes in the informal sector, he added, “ If you ask me, could we be in a recession? There is nothing in data that says we could not be in a recession”.

While the economist observed that poverty in the country had fallen dramatically, he pointed out that first time since the 1960s average consumption per capita, as measured by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), had dropped. “The data was in the public domain for a while, and then the government said the data is bad,” Mr. Banerjee added.

He also expressed concerns that India was one the lowest education mobility countries in the world.

‘Net effect of migration zero’

On the question of migration and its economic impacts, he said the net effect of migration was actually been measured in many contexts to be essentially zero.

Describing India as a “ slow migration economy” he said that drivers of migrations across the world were disasters, not economic pulls but push due to disasters.

“So, you have Iraq, Syria, Venezuela supplying migrants to the world. These are not poor countries. These are middle-income countries, with civil wars, complete economic disasters. It’s not economic pull that gets a lot of migrants out. It’s the push,” Mr. Banerjee added.

Greek crisis

Citing an example from the Greek crisis where the unemployment for the young rose to 50 -60 % and the entire welfare system got bankrupt, only 60,000 Greeks left Greece.

“The image of people waiting at the border to rush in, there is no data for it,” he added.

Mr. Banerjee pointed out there was no evidence that migrants depress low-income wages. “I think people have this idea that these people are coming in and they must be taking my job away. But, in fact, what happens when a lot of people come, you end up in a slightly different job. You become the manager for these people, the newcomers; you start a restaurant to feed them,” he said.

On his hopes from the country’s Budget, he added that the money must be pumped in to refinance the banking sector and improve infrastructure. “All the vibes I hear is about tax cuts to the middle class, I don’t think there is much leverage in it,” he added, wishing that the Budget should also not come up with giveaways to the corporate sector.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 8:32:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/talks-about-minority-takeover-a-way-to-demonise-a-population-says-nobel-laureate-abhijit-banerjee/article30673207.ece

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