See: http://bharatkalyan97. blogspot.in/2013/05/a-threat- to-food-security-s-gurumurthy. html A threat to food security — S. Gurumurthy.
Stuck record: Why Amartya Sen is wrong on food security again
by R Jagannathan 25 mins ago
It is becoming increasingly difficult to retain respect for Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. He seems to surface in the media every time the UPA government is about to legislate its pet follies, providing intellectual succour to mindless spending and corruption wrapped up in the package of anti-poverty schemes.
Yesterday, Sen bobbed up just when the UPA – under siege for every known scam in India – tried to start discussions on the Food Security Bill in order to divert attention from scams. Sure enough, Sen was at hand to defend it, never mind the economic consequences.
Consider his statements – against the backdrop of larger realities and facts.
First, he said that politicians who disrupt parliament should be confronted with “estimated numbers of deaths” caused by delaying the Food Security Bill.
Is that so? The BJP surely needs to be hauled over the coals for continuing its disruptions, but the Bill was moved for passing just yesterday, when the Congress was caught in a political jam. Sen should tell us how many deaths were caused since yesterday. For a UPA that has been in power for nine years, one wonders why the Food Bill needed to be brought just before the elections, and why it needed to be discussed just when corruption scandals are boiling over.
The right calculations to make, Dr Sen, are the ones put out by Sunil Jain in The Financial Express yesterday. According to Jain, nearly 40-50 percent of the food passing through the public distribution system goes to the wrong people. “If implementing the bill is to cost Rs 6 lakh crore over a three-year period, as the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) reckons, that’s a huge Rs 3 lakh crore to be siphoned off by various middlemen along the way.”
Amartya Sen is welcome to calculate the Rs 3 lakh crore that will not go to the poor. He should first calculate the deaths caused by social spending that does not go to the real poor before talking about deaths allegedly caused by disruptions and delays in parliament – however repugnant they are.
Next, he made silly claims about Manmohan Singh‘s eyesight. According to The Economic Times, Sen said that “there is no evidence that he (Manmohan) cannot see” the number of likely deaths of women and children triggered by non-legislation of the bill by parliament.
Sen’s ophthalmological qualifications are suspect. Manmohan Singh has been unable to “see” the scams in his own backyard – from 2G to CWG to Coalgate – and his ministers and officials are busy lying to the Supreme Court on his behalf to save his bacon. So the PM’s ability to “see” anything beyond his own political future is in doubt. The deaths of women and children due to non-passage of the Bill are secondary.
Sen is also quoted as saying: “To capture people’s attention, you have to have a number. There is something clearly wrong.” Again, of course, the reference is to deaths due to delay in the Bill.
Dr Sen, how is it you cannot “see” even bigger numbers than the ones you want parliamentarians to see? How about Rs 1,76,000 crore (2G)? That’s a number bigger than the Food Security Bill. How about Rs 1,86,000 crore (Coalgate)? Still unimpressed? If you look at either of these scam numbers, and there are scores like these, the Food Security Bill could have been easily financed for free – even assuming the Food Bill is really a good idea (which it is not).
The Economic Times also quotes Sen as reviving the growth versus social spending debate. He said, not unreasonably, that the growth story of Asia has been led by investment in education and health. “Instead of thinking about whether you are growth or anti-growth we should think about what will lead to sustained economic growth and the big story of Asian economic development. That has (also) been the story of Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and now China in a big way.”
What Sen forgets is that all these Asian social sector success stories were achieved in monocultural societies, and which were all non-democracies (except Japan) at the time of their major social investments. In India’s diverse and democratic polity, where consensus is always difficult, we privileged state investments in public sector enterprises (most of which are draining money now) over social spending all the way through 1947-1991. It was only when we went for growth that we managed to reduce poverty.
If he is not convinced, he can read Swaminathan Aiyar on this here. He can also read this writer’s summation of Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya’s book on how the Gujarat growth model and the Kerala social model are actually driven by the same thing: growth and private spending.
It is also worth reminding Sen about his Annie Hall moment of 2005. In February 2005, Sen had extolled the China model in a speech in Hong Kong, only to be corrected on it by someone who had to face the brunt of the Communist dictatorship.
A report in The Wall Street Journal at that time reports what happened at that meeting. Sen was waxing eloquent about how China had made great strides in state-led healthcare under Mao’s cultural revolution. He criticised private healthcare that a modernising China had begun to opt for.
He was stopped in his tracks by an eyewitness to Mao’s follies right there. According to the Journal, Weijian Shan, who was one of Mao’s “barefoot” doctors, set the record straight. “I observed with my own eyes the total absence of medicine in some parts of China. The system was totally unsustainable. We used to admire India.” Shan added: “If they had made the system optional, nobody would have opted for it.”
That, Dr Sen, is the reality – whether you talk about Food Security or Universal Healthcare. While the state has the clear role as facilitator, people want a choice.
The Right to Food is not any more important than the Right to Choice. To force an economically unsustainable Food Security Bill, which is going to cost Rs 6,00,000 crore over three years, down the throats of two-thirds of the population is not a sign of great humanity. It is the exact opposite. It will eat away through inflation and whatever is gained in terms of cheap food delivered through a leaky system that swallows up half the grains meant for the poor.
Over the last nine years, the UPA’s misguided interventions in social spending – whether it is NREGA or loan waivers for farmers – have more or less halted the India growth story. The only thing high state spending has achieved is bankruptcy and corruption.
This is not to deny that there are stil huge pockets of malnutrition and hunger in India. But it is surely not 65 percent of the population – which is what the Food Security Bill is trying to target.
There is a story from my school days that Sen would do well to read. It seems a King of yore did not want to get his feet dirty. In order to achieve this, he ordered that his entire kingdom should be carpeted with leather. A wise man intervened to avert this stupidity and pointed out that the king could keep his feet clean by wearing shoes.
This is the underlying message. To end poverty and hunger and malnutrition, you don’t need a universal Food Security Bill. You don’t need to carpet two-thirds of India with cheap food. Food security should be focused on identified pockets of high poverty and malnutrition. The rest of India can take care of itself, if the growth story is restarted.
Dr Sen, maybe you don’t understand politics and are unaware of the Congress’ game. The Food Security Bill is not about ending malnutrition and hunger; it is about addressing Sonia Gandhi and the Congress’ hunger for power, and their political insecurity.
PS: Dr Sen, just in case you are interested, the BJP is not disrupting parliament just to jettison the Food Security Bill. Bad ideas have universal acceptance among politicians.