Atanu Dey On India's Development

What’s Choking India

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Today’s Wall Street Journal has a report, “Megacities Threaten to Choke India,” has a catchy but misleading title. Megacities are not threatening to choke India. The megacities are choking already. What is choking India is basically primal human frailties revealed by circumstances that come about through individual rationality but end up in collective irrationality.

Take the case of a day laborer, Manoj Kumar.

Mr. Kumar had come to Lucknow from a small village eight days before, leaving his wife and four children behind. He hadn’t found work yet. He tried lowering his daily price from 100 rupees to 80 and then 60, without luck. Like many of the workers around him, he was sleeping on the ground by the temple.

One could safely assume that Mr Kumar’s parents were not well-off and further that he has half-a-dozen siblings. Since he did not get any education, the best he can do is provide unskilled labor. The aggregate supply of such unskilled labor relative to aggregate demand depresses the price of labor to subsistence (or below) levels. Mr Kumar, in his turn, continues the tradition of parenting the next generation of unskilled labor by producing not a couple but four children. This is great for depressing the price of labor and naturally for the upper socio-economic strata which the policymakers inhabit. What literally kills the poor is great for the non-poor. The poor apparently very willingly participate in their own destitution through their fecundity.

These poor then go and vote for the likes of Mayawati. She controls the public purse strings and as the article notes,

Urvashi Sharma, a local activist, says the Uttar Pradesh state government has allocated huge sums on projects of limited social value, including a $90 million monument being built to honor political leaders near the Gomti River. It involves a massive domed monolith and public meeting area stretching over several city blocks, with a statue of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kumari Mayawati across the street and a gallery of giant stone elephants, her political party’s symbol. Navneet Sehgal, the state’s secretary of urban development, says the project is an economic stimulus and has created jobs.

Navneet Sehgal is an idiot but understandably so because most likely he has no clue about what causes what. However, Mayawati is not an idiot. She fits the pattern of Indian political leadership which has, since independence starting with Jawaharlal Nehru (after whom the great Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal project is named), been of parasites with the morality of pond scum.

But Mr Sehgal and Mr Kumar probably support Mayawati at the polls. It is hard to feel sorry for people who work hard at inviting the disasters that they suffer. What bothers me is that this cycle of stupidity and misery is hard to break through reason and rationality and will eventually only be broken by nature’s vicious intervention.

Coming back to the title of the WSJ piece: megacities are not choking India; people are choking India.

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  • gauravusc

    Thanks for the post. I’m not very familiar with Indian politics (though enough to have an opinion about Mayawati) but if not for grand blinders like Mayawati, did Mr. Kumar have any other option to vote into power…someone who would not do what Mayawati is doing? I think the problem ultimately lies in lack of education among the lower class of India, which the beasts like Mayawati feed off of. And the lack of education can be attributed to over-population and we have a never-ending cycle to fuel the rise of people like Mayawati.

  • smichet

    Projects such as the $90 million monument are valid stimulus plans. There are so many laborers required to build such structures, and in India, most of it is done by hand. For all the time that the construction takes, people will have jobs, families will get fed. For millions of people in India, life is on a day to day survival basis and while in the end, there needs to be a more long term solution, there’s still a long way to go, in the meantime short term solutions such as these projects are necessary.
    As far as Indian megacities go, there needs to be a strong focus on WHY all the people are migrating. India has always had a dense population, but they were more evenly dispersed through the countryside. Villages are failing, there is no work. Global warming has caused drastic changes in the rain cycle and famine is widespread. People move to the city for lack of other options.