December 23, 2002
Jean Dreze on India's Food Distribution Program

Jean Dreze thinks remarkably neoliberal thoughts about India's Public [Food] Distribution System...


The Hindu

Monday, February 26, 2001

Starving the poor

By Jean Dreze

THERE IS no greater scam in India at this time than the so-called food subsidy. Under the cover of ``food security'', the Government is keeping millions of tonnes of food out of reach of poor people. Even at the best of times, undernutrition levels in India are extraordinarily high. According to the second National Family Health Survey (1998-99), about half of all Indian children are chronically undernourished. The latest Human Development Report places India at the rock bottom of the international scale in this respect, with only Bangladesh doing worse. This year, with drought affecting large parts of the country for the second or third time in a row, undernourishment and starvation could spread even further.

Against this background, unsuspecting observers may welcome the fact that the Indian Government is spending about Rs. 10,000 crores this year on the ``food subsidy''. Surely this helps to bring food within reach of poor families? Far from it. The food subsidy is essentially the deficit of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), whose operations are now chiefly geared to keeping food prices up rather than down. This has been achieved (temporarily at least) by accumulating massive amounts of food in FCI godowns. Today, foodgrain stocks are approaching 50 million tonnes. The Indian public is so used to large numbers that it is easy to lose sight of the staggering scale of this hoard. It may help to think of it as the equivalent of one tonne of food for each household under the poverty line. If all the sacks of grain lying in FCI godowns were lined up in a row, the line would stretch for a million kilometres - more than twice the distance from the earth to the moon.

When millions of people are undernourished if not starving, hoarding food on this scale - at enormous cost - is nothing short of implicit mass murder. There are two major reasons why the food subsidy is so large at this time. One pertains to the FCI's high operating costs (including the storage costs). According to one estimate, those accounted for nearly half of the total food subsidy in the mid- 1990s. The second reason is that, at this time, the FCI is buying far more food than it is selling. The difference is a net addition to stocks - the latter continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Ordinary households, for their part, benefit very little from this ``subsidy''. In fact, what they gain on one side from subsidised food obtained from the Public Distribution System (PDS) pales in comparison to what they lose as a result of having to pay higher food prices on the market. This is all the more so bearing in mind the low quality of PDS foodgrains. In some areas, it is reported that even BPL (below poverty line) households see little advantage in purchasing food from ration shops rather than from the market, because the price differential is too small to compensate for the quality differential. These households, in other words, effectively gain nothing from subsidised PDS sales; on the other hand, they bear the burden of high food prices on the market as a result of the FCI's hoarding operations.

Meanwhile, unintended constituencies are merrily feeding at the ``food security'' trough. Rats and worms are devouring the stocks. Ration-shop dealers, distribution agents and other intermediaries are selling PDS food on the black market. According to the Planning Commission, 36 per cent of PDS wheat and 31 per cent of PDS rice are appropriated by private parties, at the all-India level. All this boosts the ``food subsidy'' (i.e. the deficit of the FCI) without doing anything for the hungry.

The question arises as to why these mounting stocks are not used to fund a massive expansion of the PDS, food-for-work schemes or other anti-poverty programmes. This appears to be largely a matter of political priorities, organisational abilities, and willingness to bear the financial costs associated with such programmes (e.g. the non-wage component of food-for-work schemes). Addressing these ``bottlenecks'' is an urgent direction of political action at this time of widespread hardship across the country. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that income-generation programmes alone would succeed in absorbing the current food stocks. According to several recent studies, it is only at very low levels of income that foodgrain consumption rises with additional income; beyond that, income increases lead to higher consumption of pulses, vegetables, milk, fat and related items, but foodgrain consumption remains more or less unchanged.

This suggests that, after a point, income-generation programmes will not help to resolve the fundamental imbalance between foodgrain demand and supply at the prevailing price. Resolving that imbalance ultimately calls for a decline in the relative price of foodgrains. That, in turn, would conflict with a paramount objective of food policy at this time, namely the continuation of relatively high foodgrain prices. The conviction that food prices have to be ``supported'' (i.e. kept up) is so strong and so widespread that it has clouded any reasoned analysis of the social consequences of high food prices. Many people, especially poor people, would gain from a decline in food prices. For agricultural labourers, migrant workers, slum dwellers, in short all those among the poor who buy most of their food on the market, cheaper food would be a blessing. People living in drought-affected areas that are poorly served by the PDS would also get substantial relief from being able to buy cheap food on the market, instead of being at the mercy of the PDS mafia.

What about the farmers? As it is, they have not been doing too well in recent years, with the slowdown of agricultural growth in the 1990s followed by widespread drought. Their livelihoods are further threatened, in some cases, by the imminent lifting of quantitative restrictions on agricultural imports in compliance with WTO regulations. Against this background, is it not imperative to sustain high foodgrain prices?

There are two answers to this question. One is that the poorer sections of the farming community benefit very little, if at all, from price support measures. Consider for instance small farmers in, say, Orissa or Jharkhand or Chhatisgarh. These farmers typically sell little grain, if any, on the market; instead, they tend to combine subsistence farming with labour migration and other income-earning activities that allow them to buy non-food commodities. Hence, higher food prices do not help them. What would help them is an improvement in productivity, based for instance on technological innovation and crop diversification. There is an enormous potential for productivity improvement in large parts of the eastern region, which has been grossly neglected. Instead, massive resources have been spent on promoting unsustainable farming patterns in Punjab, Haryana and other privileged areas.

The second answer is that, whatever the pros and cons of lower food prices, it is in any case not possible to sustain artificially high prices, short of destroying or exporting the surplus food. Storing surplus food only postpones the problem. Worse, it aggravates it, by giving farmers misleading signals to the effect that they should continue growing more foodgrains instead of diversifying their crops. Sooner or later, this is bound to lead to a glut in the foodgrain market and a collapse of market prices, defeating the price-support policy. In fact, declines in market prices have already happened this year in large parts of the country. The glut is likely to intensify after the rabi harvest, especially as private traders are unlikely to take the risk of buying large quantities of food. It is reported that plans are afoot to deal with this impending ``crisis'' through official procurement of up to another 20 million tonnes of wheat. But this only amounts to digging the hole deeper and deeper.

Temporarily keeping prices up by storing food at massive public expense is not an effective way of helping needy farmers. In so far as supporting food prices is a sensible objective, the only sustainable and equitable way of doing it is to generate income among the poorer sections of society. At this time of widespread drought, all the parties involved have a strong interest in food stocks being used without delay for massive income-generation programmes. The causes of prevailing inertia on that front are examined in the second part of this article.

AS THE effects of prolonged drought intensify across the country, there is an obvious case for using idle food stocks for income- generation purposes. Aside from helping the poor in drought- affected areas, income-generation programmes would give farmers elsewhere some protection against a price crash later in the year, mitigate the problem of escalating food stocks, and earn the Government some credit for supporting the people during this crisis. There are, in principle, good prospects of broad-based support for such an initiative.

Why, then, is so little being done to use food stocks for drought relief purposes? There appear to be three basic constraints, concerned respectively with political, financial and structural factors. The political constraint is simply that drought relief is not (at least not yet) a priority in the corridors of power. The poor have never counted for much in India's lopsided democracy, and with the growing orientation of economic policy towards the (so-called) middle class, their concerns have been further marginalised. Drought, for instance, hardly figures in ongoing discussions of the upcoming budget.

This political invisibility of drought-related issues struck me after a recent visit to Rajasthan's State Secretariat in Jaipur. While some able and public-spirited administrators were hard at work, the dominant mood was one of complacency and abdication. The most common attitude was to downplay the drought, if not blame the victims for their own predicament. One official assured me that the drought was ``media hype'', and that people were doing just fine. Another explained to me how he had learnt from Amartya Sen's work that the first sign of a famine is food scarcity and a rise in prices, neither of which could be observed in Rajasthan today. (It is hard to think of a more radical inversion of Sen's analysis.) Asked about the possibility of curbing electricity consumption in Jaipur during the drought period, the Chief Minister proudly told us (P. Sainath and myself) that he had already done it. As he spoke, the lights of Jaipur's lavish wedding parties and glittering avenues were glowing across the evening sky.

A similar feedback emerges from New Delhi's various bhawans (Yojana Bhawan, Krishi Bhawan, etc.). A senior official at the Finance Ministry, for instance, assured me that ``people do not have the capacity to absorb more food'' [sic]. Initially, I took it that all these good people were trying to pull wool over my eyes. It gradually became clear, however, that they actually believed what they were saying. And to be fair to them, there is little in Jaipur (let alone Delhi) to remind the middle classes that they live in the capital of a drought- affected State. The atmosphere there is one of economic boom and unprecedented opulence, with plenty of internet cafs, smart restaurants and fashionable boutiques. The ``social distance'' between Government officials and drought-affected people further enhances the political invisibility of the latter's predicament.

The second constraint is financial. The coffers of State Governments are empty, making it difficult for them to bear the cash costs of income-generation programmes (e.g. the non-wage component of food-for- work schemes). At the State Secretariat in Jaipur, ``paise naheen hai'' was a constant refrain. The Government of Rajasthan is caught in a debt trap, whereby larger and larger sums of money need to be borrowed simply to cope with interest payments on outstanding debt. Finding money to pay the salaries of Government employees is the top priority of the finance wizards, if not the single priority. Rumour has it that all kinds of development schemes have been halted, downsized or postponed for that purpose. Even widow pensions, I was told, have not been paid for eight months for lack of funds.

The financial constraint is exacerbated by the tendency of different parts of the public sector (e.g. the Food Corporation of India, the State Governments, different Ministries) to protect their own budgets and ``pass the buck''. State Governments, for instance, currently have to buy food from the Central Government at the ``BPL price''. Thus, the low social cost of food at this time of bulging stocks is not reflected in public accounting practices. The thought arises, of course, that part of the food stocks could be sold on the market to generate the required cash resources.

This brings us to the third issue - the structural constraint. This constraint derives from the primacy of the price-support objective, discussed in the first part of this article. If food stocks are released on the market, food prices will fall. This would undermine the Central Government's commitment to sustain a ``minimum support price'' (MSP). In other words, whatever food the Government may sell to generate cash resources will, in effect, have to be bought again to sustain the official MSP. This problem, incidentally, applies not only in relation to the ``overheads'' involved in organising (say) employment programmes, but also to wage payments themselves. If wages are paid fully in kind, market demand for food is bound to decline, compelling the Government to procure more food if the MSP is to be sustained. In short, the Government cannot have its cake and eat it: either it has to generate independent cash resources for drought-relief programmes, or it has to adopt a lower MSP.

To these three basic constraints, one has to add further impediments of a more routine nature: bureaucratic inertia, infrastructural bottlenecks, lack of communication between Ministries, and so on. The ``blame game'' between the Central and State Governments is another stumbling block. State Governments, for instance, complain of inadequate food allotments from the Centre. The Centre, for its part, blames State Governments for failing to make full use of their existing allotments. Constructive efforts to resolve these differences are few and far between.

In overcoming these constraints, the first step is to ensure that the welfare of drought-affected people becomes a major political priority. That, in turn, is unlikely to happen unless drought- affected people are able to build countervailing power and alter the prevailing biases of public policy. As it happens, a redeeming feature of droughts in contemporary India is that they tend to be periods of intensified political action and popular mobilisation. The 1970-73 drought in Maharashtra led to growing social awareness of the right to work, later enshrined in the State's pioneering ``employment guarantee scheme''. The 1987 drought in Rajasthan gave birth to a powerful movement for the ``people's right to information''. Even the Naxalite movement has important roots in the devastating droughts of the mid-1960s.

This year, similar processes have already begun in some drought- affected States. On February 18, for instance, more than 1,000 farmers and labourers from drought-affected districts of Rajasthan held a public meeting near the State Secretariat in Jaipur, in a spirited attempt to make their voices heard. Their startling testimonies exposed the self-satisfied claims of the administration. In one village of Pali district, people have to fetch drinking water from a distance of 20 km. In Rajsamand, the district's largest lake has dried up for the first time in 300 years. In Udaipur district, two starvation deaths have already been reported. In tribal areas of Chittaurgarh, drought-affected families are selling their meagre assets to buy food. In some villages, children are withdrawn from school by impoverished parents. Distress migration and cattle deaths are widespread. As for relief programmes, they are virtually non-existent as things stand: the coverage of relief works is negligible, and even the public distribution system does not function in many areas.

This meeting was a major wake-up call for the State Government (and there are early signs of a positive response). Gatherings of this kind also give a sharp sense of the latent political power of the underprivileged. The paradox of mounting food stocks amidst widespread hunger provides a natural rallying point for popular mobilisation across the country. Therein lies the hope not only of resolving that paradox but also of achieving more lasting changes in the balance of political power.

(Concluded)

Copyrights © 2001 The Hindu & indiaserver.com, Inc. Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu & indiaserver.com, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.

Posted by DeLong at December 23, 2002 08:17 AM | Trackback

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December 2, 2002

Poor in India Starve as Surplus Wheat Rots
By AMY WALDMAN (NYT)

Surplus from this year's wheat harvest, bought by the government from farmers, sits moldering in muddy fields here in Punjab State. Some of the previous year's wheat surplus sits untouched, too, and the year's before that, and the year's before that.

To the south, in the neighboring state of Rajasthan, villagers ate boiled leaves or discs of bread made from grass seeds in late summer and autumn because they could not afford to buy wheat. One by one, children and adults -- as many as 47 in all -- wilted away from hunger-related causes, often clutching pained stomachs....

Posted by: on December 23, 2002 01:21 PM

the truly depressing thing is that he wrote the article in early 2001 -- and people are still starving in Dec. 2002 (as the NYT link suggests)..

reduces one's faith in the democratic process, at least in the developing world..

Posted by: on December 23, 2002 03:30 PM

Huh? Why on earth would this reduce one's faith in democracy? Isn't this sort of thing just precisely what one would reasonably have expected in a democracy in the first place? Particularly with the sort of cultural and political starting situation India had.

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence on December 23, 2002 07:00 PM

This article makes me wonder if Mahatma Ghandi caused more harm than good. Was India ready to exit the British empire in 1947? Wouldn’t it have been better if India had waited another twenty years? Colonial rule did much to wean the Indians away from savagery and contempt of the higher classes for the lower. Oh well, the politically correct Liberals prevailed and the rest is history.

India can probably easily feed its growing population. But the Western World hesitates in being blunt and instead prefers to offer the Indians the fantasy nonsense of Mother Theresa. India doesn’t need hand outs from the West. No, it needs to embrace the values of democratic capitalism and belief in the equality of citizens regardless of their social status. To be blunt: far too many Indians are bigots! This result of this bigotry is the death of millions of their fellow citizens.

Posted by: David Thomson on December 23, 2002 09:53 PM

Thomson is apparently of the rather curious opinion that India did not have famines under British rule! (One might also suggest that, if one compares India with the only country of comparable population and stage of development in 1947, then the very best thing that they could have done would have been to have had a Maoist Revolution and a Great Leap Forward, which suggests that there might be something wrong with making glib generalisations about development).

More seriously, I find it hard to read this piece as specifically neoliberal. Dreze is a great guy who knows and cares deeply about India, but I don't see him here calling for radical Malawi-style dissolution of the public grain stores, or for total marketisation of the food industry in India.

Dreze is just pointing out that one institution of the Indian state is horrendously, institutionally and murderously complacent. That's not an activity reserved for neoliberals. In any case, wasn't India meant to be a neoliberal success story a couple of months ago?

Posted by: dsquared on December 23, 2002 11:02 PM


>This article makes me wonder if Mahatma Ghandi >caused more harm than good. Was India ready to >exit the British empire in 1947?


Indeed. After all, there weren't any famines in British India, much less famines induced and exacerbated by British policies, as Amartya Sen and Mike Davis have documented!

And it's not like the percentage of hungry has decreased, with particularly dramatic decreases in states with strong leftist movements!


>Colonial rule did much to wean the Indians away >from savagery and contempt of the higher classes >for the lower.

Nicholas Dirks agrees, and so do the architects of the Criminal Tribes Act!


>Oh well, the politically correct Liberals >prevailed and the rest is history.

Wait, weren't the politically correct liberals, like Ambedkar, the ones who were opposed to the contempt of the higher castes to the lower?

And afaik, the unsustainable farming patterns in the Punjab area was begun by the British.

But to return to the actual subject, my question would be how much of the benefit of price supports accrues to large commercial farmers, and how much to medium/small farmers? What would be the impact to local economies of medium-sized farmers earning less?


Posted by: khia on December 23, 2002 11:20 PM

December 2, 2002

Poor in India Starve as Surplus Wheat Rots
By AMY WALDMAN (NYT)

"The reason, experts and officials agree, is the economics — and particularly the politics — of food in India, a country that has modernized on many fronts but that remains desperately poor.

"Critics say the central government, led for the last four years by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has catered to political allies and powerful farm lobbies in a few key states by buying more and more grain from farmers at higher and higher prices. At the same time, it has been responding to pressure from international lenders by curbing food subsidies to consumers."

Posted by: on December 24, 2002 08:28 AM

I still think that the lives of these people are deemed of little value. One does not need to worship at the altar of John Rawls to wonder about a society that allows so many to die from hunger. I have also decided to indulge in a bit of redundancy and once again criticize the Mother Theresa nonsense. India does not need to rely on handouts from the West. No, it is far more important that this nation reforms its governmental, religious, and cultural institutions. This is the real reason for beggars dying in the streets. To be really cynical, the well meaning Mother Theresa may have unwittingly misdirected energies better spent in other directions.

Posted by: David Thomson on December 24, 2002 08:33 AM

Remember the Nobel Prize winning work of Amartya Sen on food distrubution during critical shortage periods as countries become more democratic.

Remember also, the desperate shortage of medicine for HIV/AIDS sufferers through Africa. The work of Amartya Sen needs to be examined anew in light of the spread of AIDS in Africa and also in China.

Posted by: on December 24, 2002 08:35 AM

South Africa is surely a democracy and a hope for all Africa. India is a democracy. Still, in light of the problems of AIDS in South Africa and hunger in India, what are the essential institutions of a modern democracy?

Posted by: on December 24, 2002 08:40 AM

“Remember the Nobel Prize winning work of Amartya Sen on food distrubution during critical shortage periods as countries become more democratic.”

I am treading on dangerous ground for I have never read the actual works of Amartya Sen. My impression, however, is that Sen relies extensively on Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction thesis. How does a growing democracy make improvements regarding food production without destroying the livelihood of farmers committed to the old ways of doing things? An improved economy is going to result in new winners and losers. It seems inevitable that many people will suffer while the overall economy undergoes such revolutionary change. Alas, I do not pretend to possess any magic answers.

Posted by: David Thomson on December 24, 2002 09:58 AM

“...what are the essential institutions of a modern democracy?”

Oh boy, how do I answer this question in fifty words or less? Both South Africa and India must civilize large numbers of their citizens who are are nothing more than Neanderthal like savages. Try imagining Thomas Hobbes on steroids. India may have more citizens who speak English than the United States. Unfortunately, those folks comprise only a quarter of the total population. The rest are illiterate and nowhere ready to handle the responsibilities of living in the 21st Century. Little can be done until the latter are converted to the essential beliefs of Western Civilization. And yes, I am employing the term conversion similar to that normally reserved to institutional religions. The politically correct Liberals, however, feel uncomfortable “imposing” their beliefs on these often perceived innocent and childlike victims of alleged colonial exploitation. The cultural relativists have caused enormous damage. Very little good can be accomplished until these idiots are utterly marginalized.

Posted by: David Thomson on December 24, 2002 10:25 AM

"Both South Africa and India must civilize large numbers of their citizens who are are nothing more than Neanderthal like savages. Try imagining Thomas Hobbes on steroids. India may have more citizens who speak English than the United States. Unfortunately, those folks comprise only a quarter of the total population. The rest are illiterate and nowhere ready to handle the responsibilities of living in the 21st Century. Little can be done until the latter are converted to the essential beliefs of Western Civilization."

you have to be kidding.. i'm not a crazy defender of horrible traditions and all, but this sounds quite fascist. and why does speaking english have anything to do with civilization?

Posted by: on December 24, 2002 10:58 AM

“...you have to be kidding.. i'm not a crazy defender of horrible traditions and all, but this sounds quite fascist.”

The very idea that the essential values of Western Civilization should be “preached” to the backward people should not seem shocking. You unlikely cannot offer any logical reasons for your gut feelings. That is almost certainly due to the relativist education you received in some politically correct university.

”...and why does speaking english have anything to do with civilization?”

Life is not fair. Why not French, Arabic, or even Eskimo? English is the language in India that unites those who speak the multitude languages and dialects of that nation. An educated person in India, just like in the United States, must learn English.

Posted by: David Thomson on December 24, 2002 11:45 AM

I couldn't agree more with dsquared on the subject at hand. But let me add my two cents nevertheless. Democracy is the only way forward for India. And as bizzare as this might sound, democracy works quite well in India. As I wrote in another post to the Brad Delong website a few months ago, the lower castes are organizing themselves into a cohesive political force to demand more accountability from the government. The process of poor illiterate villagers organizing to collectively bargain is fascinating to me. Yes, the process at times seems excruciatingly slow. But the trick is to stick with it. Insitutions are the key to a country's success, and we are slowly but surely building them.

Posted by: Vivek Oberoi on December 24, 2002 09:07 PM

"Democracy is the only way forward for India."

I am very optimistic concerning India’s future. It would not even surprise me if India became the center of Western Civilization sometime around the middle of this century. My way of perceiving the so-called “West” has absolutely nothing to with either race or ethnicity. Dinesh D’Souza is right on target in citing Matthew Arnold’s pithy saying that Western Civilization is nothing more than honoring the best that has ever been said and written. Western Civilization is not about a bunch of white guys running around telling people what to do!

Posted by: David Thomson on December 25, 2002 12:51 PM

"One might also suggest that, if one compares India with the only country of comparable population and stage of development in 1947, then the very best thing that they could have done would have been to have had a Maoist Revolution and a Great Leap Forward,..."

Over 20 million innocent people were murdered by starvation during the "Great Leap Forward." (See "Hungry Ghosts," by Jasper Becker.)

It's hard to imagine any human being advocating the starvation of over 20 million people, no matter what gains have been achieved--by capitalism--since then.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on December 26, 2002 10:05 AM

"In any case, wasn't India meant to be a neoliberal success story a couple of months ago?"

India is a socialist country, by its constitution. It can hardly be considered "neoliberal" (curious word, rendered essentially meaningless by its many definitions).

Posted by: Mark Bahner on December 26, 2002 10:11 AM

"...what are the essential institutions of a modern democracy?"

The same as for pre-modern democracies:

1) Legislatures and courts that provide equal treatment under the laws,

2) Courts that honor property rights,

3) Freedom of speech and the press,

4) Freedom of religion.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on December 26, 2002 10:19 AM

What I wanted to say, is that democracy in India and elsewhere ensures that governments in India have an incentive to remedy the malnourishment problem. I think thats a point that Amartaya Sen makes as well. Malnourishment is very much a political issue in the upcoming state elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. And both state governments have made attempts to distribute food stocks better.

Now, it still does not answer the question of why the situation got so bad in the first place. Dreze's article rightly points to structural problems with the FCI (Food Corporation of India). Though, FCI is only one part of larger agricultural policy that needs to be fixed. The Indian government is well aware of the need. And 'slowly but surely' they are getting to it.

What Dreze's article does not mention, but which I think is a real ray of hope is the new political clout of the lower castes. Over the last 10 yrs they have organized themselves into a very effective political voice. Some of that new clout has been frittered (?) away in symbolism, but some of it being used to ensure that the government addresses their real concerns including a better targetted public distribution system.

Also, I dunno about the speaking in the English bit. I don't think it co-relates into 'civilization'. The BJP is very much a upper caste party. It isn't the poor illiterate lower castes that are usually associated with the savagery that you rightly mention. Hindu militancy is instead a phenomenon of urban/semi-urban middle class--most of whom are literate (educated would be the wrong word), and yes, even fluent in English.

Posted by: Vivek Oberoi on December 26, 2002 11:04 PM

Mark Bahner wrote:

>>Over 20 million innocent people were murdered by starvation during the "Great Leap Forward." (See "Hungry Ghosts," by Jasper Becker.)

It's hard to imagine any human being advocating the starvation of over 20 million people, no matter what gains have been achieved--by capitalism--since then.

However, this is exactly what Sen & Dreze (somewhat tongue in cheek) noted in their book on the subject. Because India has a market system for the distribution of food and healthcare, it has much greater inequality in the distribution of these goods than China, and this has shown up since about 1960 in a significantly worse mortality, morbidity and longevity in India relative to China; to the tune of about four million deaths per year. Their conclusion was that "India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame".

Things have obviously moved on a bit since that piece of research (China has moved more toward a market system, and seen the downward trend in mortality reverse), but it's always a useful corrective for any simple dogmatic thinking of ... well, of the sort that would call India a "socialist country".

Posted by: dsquared on December 26, 2002 11:28 PM

Picking up from I left off, it is indeed very perplexing why it took so long--40 odd yrs--for the poorer section of Indian society to organize themselves politically.

There is no dispute that China did better than India in most human development indices over the last 50 yrs. The question is why weren't Indian political parties held responsible for their indifferent performance? Why did alternatives to Congress rule take so long to develop at a national level? Within India, states in which governments change often have generally done better (remember VO Keys analysis of the American south). The absence of effective political opposition for such a long time after independence needs to be looked at.

Posted by: Vivek Oberoi on December 27, 2002 02:07 AM

Vivek Oberoi wrote, "...but it's always a useful corrective for any simple dogmatic thinking of ... well, of the sort that would call India a 'socialist country'."

????

No, what would be dogmatic would be *not* to call India a socialist country!

India was a socialist county as *defined by its constitution* from independence in 1947 until a constitutional amendment in 1976.

But even though the word "socialist" was eliminated from the Indian constitution in 1976, socialism was still unquestionably practiced long after 1976.

This site says of the economy of India:

"'Indian-style socialism' was effectively abolished in 1991, and since then the country has opened its markets and pursued liberalization."

http://www.joi.or.jp/pdf/no51.pdf

However, even THAT site's characterization is highly charitable. India's LAWS may have "effectively abolished" Indian socialism in 1991...but it takes a very long time to cure a nearly terminal cancer. Many Indian industries are still heavily tied to the Indian government.

As late as December 3, 2002, various Indian governments were struggling with divestment of ownership of various Indian companies:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/DL03Df01.html

So, yes, unless there have been some really dramatic changes since December 3, 2002, India is INDEED a "socialist country." Only someone with dogmatic thinking would disagree. (Perhaps someone who thinks "socialist" can only be applied if there is 100% state ownership of 100% of all companies?)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on January 2, 2003 02:47 PM

Vivek Oberoi wrote, "Because India has a market system for the distribution of food..."

That is an amazing comment, on an article whose second line is:

"Under the cover of 'food security', the Government is keeping millions of tonnes of food out of reach of poor people."

A "market" system doesn't involve the *Government* holding millions of tons of food. When the *Government* holds millions of tons of food, that a socialistic system.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on January 2, 2003 03:08 PM

this is so stupid

Posted by: akjf on March 14, 2003 03:04 PM

Food storage is equated with food security. This is wrong economics even if right politics.

Posted by: Venkat on May 24, 2003 09:54 PM

Food storage is equated with food security. This is wrong economics even if right politics.

Posted by: Venkat on May 24, 2003 09:54 PM
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