devel­op­ment be­yond GDP

One sin­gle num­ber does not cap­ture the whole econ­omy. In­deed, it over­looks cru­cial as­pects

Governance Now - - PERFORMANC­E | ECONOMY - Dr Ken­chaigol is a pro­gramme of­fi­cer with the Pub­lic Af­fairs Cen­tre, a not-for-profit think-tank com­mit­ted to good gov­er­nance. Dr San­jeev Ken­chaigol

In an il­lu­mi­nat­ing chap­ter in­tro­duc­ing Pub­lic Af­fairs In­dex (PAI) 2018 is the nar­ra­tive on how the core ideas of hu­man wel­fare – amidst the sole fo­cus of gov­ern­ments on GDP num­bers – is driv­ing new devel­op­ment think­ing among the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of pol­i­cy­mak­ers. To­day, it is ev­i­dent that sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of the pop­u­la­tion in In­dia con­tinue to face poverty and hence poor en­ti­tle­ments and ac­cess to ba­sic hu­man devel­op­ment ne­ces­si­ties – health, ed­u­ca­tion, and sus­tain­able liveli­hoods. This is against the larger back­drop sus­tain­able devel­op­ment it­self be­ing en­dan­gered by en­vi­ron­men­tal abuse and eco­log­i­cal degra­da­tion.

To un­der­stand ex­clu­sion and the ob­jec­tive con­di­tions of the pop­u­la­tion to whom the fruits of devel­op­ment have not yet trick­led down, PAI 2018 pro­vides in­sights on the ex­ist­ing gaps in gov­er­nance. PAI 2018 also has a spe­cial fo­cus on the chil­dren of In­dia, a di­men­sion of devel­op­ment that as­sumes sig­nif­i­cance in the devel­op­ment dis­course, yet gets rel­e­gated as of re­search in­ter­est only to a hand­ful of NGOS and even­tu­ally ends as well-in­ten­tioned ef­forts of pol­i­cy­mak­ers. Herein lie the virtue and ethic of the PAI se­ries that strives to make all the stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ments, recog­nise where the or­di­nary cit­i­zens stand in the main­stream devel­op­ment pro­cesses and the need for the state to be held to ac­count.

Growth vs devel­op­ment

In a re­cent re­view of the book The World af­ter GDP, Amiya Ku­mar Bagchi, the veteran econ­o­mist, il­lus­trates a story of Nauru, a tiny is­land state in Mi­crone­sia, which its dis­cov­erer Cap­tain John Fern de­scribed as a ‘pleas­ant Is­land’. Things be­gan to change af­ter the World War II, when it was found that the is­land con­tained a large reser­voir of one of the purest grades of the phos­phate in the world. Its ex­ploita­tion cat­a­pulted Nauru to the sta­tus of na­tion with one of the high­est per capita in­comes in the world. How­ever, in its hurry to ‘de­velop’, its gov­ern­ment over­ex­ploited the mines and ended up de­stroy­ing the lo­cal flora and fauna. In its scram­ble to pro­tect its in­come, Nauru turned it­self into a tax haven and a money-laun­der­ing cen­tre.

“…With no vis­i­ble eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties, bro­ken in­fra­struc­ture, eco­log­i­cal may­hem and a di­shev­elled ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, mass im­mi­gra­tion is the only long-term op­tion for Nau­ri­ans, most of whom have sought bet­ter eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties in New Zealand and Aus­tralia…”

The idea of GDP as a mono mea­sure of suc­cess had caught the imag­i­na­tion of most cap­i­tal­ist and growth­cen­tred coun­tries around the world in the 1930s and 1940s, when econ­o­mists and pol­i­cy­mak­ers were pro­foundly in­flu­enced by John May­nard Keynes and his macroe­co­nomic poli­cies that cen­tred purely on mon­e­tary poli­cies and na­tional in­come ac­counts. Af­ter World War II, the GDP fa­mously be­came the core in­dex of na­tional eco­nomic strengths not only in the US and the UK but also in the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. In­dia with its Nehru­vian so­cial­ist ide­ol­ogy of na­tion-build­ing and later adopt­ing the free mar­ket econ­omy is her­self not free from the GDP ob­ses­sion de­spite glar­ing in­equal­i­ties and poverty. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers are proud in claim­ing the achieve­ment of at­tain­ing 7-8% of GDP growth, ig­nor­ing so­cial in­equal­i­ties.

Per­spec­tives in the post-gdp world

GDP as a self-cen­tred mea­sure does not in­clude hu­man devel­op­ment as­pects and ig­nores ra­tio­nal ques­tions on why widespread so­cial in­equal­i­ties per­sist. Why cer­tain groups treat women dif­fer­en­tially? How hu­man hap­pi­ness never fig­ures in the mea­sures of a na­tion’s suc­cesses? Or why mil­lions of peo­ple die de­fend­ing their mother­land or in a revo­lu­tion that asks for in­di­vid­ual free­doms or rights? To quote Bagchi again,

“The GDP man only ex­ists so far as he works and spends. He dis­likes pure leisure un­less it is priced and com­mer­cialised. For the GDP man time spent in the fam­ily or in the lo­cal com­mu­nity is wasted be­cause it does not count for devel­op­ment and growth…”

Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments and pol­i­cy­mak­ers in the coun­try have not over­come their fas­ci­na­tion with GDP num­bers. For in­stance, as a coun­try we spend the low­est per­cent­age of the GDP on ba­sic health­care, as low as 1.4%, and iron­i­cally this vi­tal hu­man free­dom has not yet gained the sta­tus of a ba­sic hu­man right. In ad­di­tion, se­vere vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights, for in­stance the un­con­scionable vi­o­lence against women and girls man­i­fested by the in­creas­ing in­stances of rapes, gross vi­o­la­tions of child rights, caste and re­li­gion based dis­crim­i­na­tion, and in­creas­ing in­tol­er­ance among the com­mu­ni­ties – not to men­tion the en­vi­ron­men­tal abuse be­ing done in the name of eco­nomic devel­op­ment – point to a fright­en­ing dystopian fu­ture.

The ‘post-gdp world’ has recog­nised the gaps and found ways to re­solve the bur­geon­ing devel­op­ment prob­lems that mankind is suf­fer­ing to­day. But this ap­a­thy rests equally with the peo­ple who gov­ern and the peo­ple who are gov­erned. Mov­ing for­ward, it is nec­es­sary that awak­ened cit­i­zens, devel­op­ment thinkers, pub­lic and pri­vate stake­hold­ers, NGOS and pri­vate en­ti­ties, con­sti­tute the main­stream and equally share the re­spon­si­bil­ity and the sense of sol­i­dar­ity to­wards an eq­ui­table and just or­der.n

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