A universal paradox: can market economy become inclusive?

Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia in New Delhi. Photo: PTI

Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia in New Delhi. Photo: PTI  

Of late there has been increased emphasis on inclusiveness in economy, society and polity. The Planning Commission has declared that the goal of the present government is not only enhanced growth but ‘inclusive growth.’ The catchword has been picked up by the media, academia and even sections of civil society. Not only this many reputed universities also have come up with centres aimed at study of social exclusion and inclusive policies. These are most welcome in a society that revels in social hierarchies and inventing inequalities. But given the market economy, procedural democracy and hierarchical society, is such much-wanted inclusion possible? Are we buying this catch phrase of ‘inclusiveness’ with critical attention? That is what it appears to be.

First and foremost the economy is an open market economy which operates, as Marx famously wrote , functions essentially on ever more concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands. There is a need within the market economy to reduce real wages to withstand competition and this leads to the ever more marginalisation of labour. Therefore the critique of market economy as leading to concentration of capital on one hand and systematically excluding the labour force from participating in the economy is well known. There is however a second aspect to the market economy. This is that as workers participate in the manufacturing, not in agriculture or primary occupations, they are also socialised to come together ever more and therefore market economy that depends on manufactures and factory production socialises labour. The second is a positive aspect. If this is the case what of our ‘inclusive growth’?

First, our growth process is not taking place in manufacture but in the service sector. Therefore the participation of manufacturing and agricultural sectors is marginal. The economy operates by excluding vast majority of people as they do not become factory workers nor are modern avenues available. Given the literacy and education rates, wider participation in the service sector-led growth is less. Secondly even in the service sector, the process of socialisation of labour, coming together, acquiring the consciousness of being labourers and forming associations based on that identity do not happen. Therefore the positive dimension of market economy is not possible either. Corporate work cultures in service sectors do not encourage or equip the workers with the consciousness of being part of a common labour force. Readers can guess what we conclude with: the faster the Indian economy grows, the more exclusionary it becomes. Vast agriculture sector lumbers on the margins as planners and commentators hope and pray for better rains, and less floods, to keep it going and achieving four percent growth target.

Social change

What about the society? Is it becoming inclusive? There might be some positive indicators on this aspect modern economy and enhanced urbanisation are supposed to unpack caste and religious identities and create a more secular society. Some social change indeed has come about at least in certain States in India where the rules of social existence — in terms of caste prejudices, rituals and more than most the joint family — have declined. But for whom and for what extent? For specifically citizens of Indian society the question is how much have they become socially inclusive? Have the caste rules changed in inter-marriage, dining and inter-mingling. This can hardly be said even in urban, metropolitan areas. Interestingly, take the example of matrimonial websites: they began saying ‘simply marry’ and now have ended up saying ‘marry within your community’! So much for the urban India; in the vast spans of rural India caste rules the roost. It is wishful thinking that by opening up economy and increasing its economic pace we increase the pace of social change towards some variety of ‘modernity’, however defined.

The polity

What about the polity? This is an area where we can hope for the better. Yogendra Yadav and his team from the CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi) have been arguing for some time that there has been an incontrovertible increase in the participation of subaltern people in the electoral and democratic processes across the country. The voting rates are increasing, as they say. The present ordinance of the Union government that there should be fifty per cent mandatory reservation for women in local bodies may strengthen the case that we are becoming, in some sense, an inclusive democracy. We can argue that the political enfranchisement of the ‘common person’ is increasing.

The point of this article is that, political enfranchisement is taking place in India without sufficient economic enfranchisement. Whether this political enfranchisement results in an ‘inclusive democracy’ or not, at different levels of the polity, is to be seen. Certainly 50 per cent reservation for women in the Parliament remains elusive. What appears to be happening to the question of ‘inclusiveness’ is that with the widespread visual and print media, along with increasing awareness of the democratic politics, certain kind of ‘political enfranchisement’ is happening. This is reflecting in the increased protests and political disturbances as well. But this is happening at the same time, and because of, ‘economic disenfranchisement’ or lack of economic empowerment.

This paradox is not limited to India. It is the paradox of capitalism everywhere; even where the identity based and other politico-sociological factors play less role. If governments and those in power politically enfranchise people but economically keep them disenfranchised the results need not be particularly happy ones. A biased and socially and spatially skewed economic enfranchisement brings forth its own ‘critical political enfranchisement’ that may be unintended. Neither what we are saying is particularly new nor is this paradox limited to India. There are good reasons to believe in a globalised world that the paradox is universal and those claim forth new ‘inclusive’ mantra may take note of this.

( V. Anil Kumar is Assistant Professor at the Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore.)

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2020 3:09:50 AM |

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