Monday, March 26, 2007

The 'emerging rich'? Will we be as bad as the early ones? nah!

Just read this 'interview' with the marvelously talented Arundhati Roy, in the magazine, Tehelka. Using a style that is uniquely her own, Ms Roy has poured scorn and just about every little ounce of disgust at the new 'elite' in India. She describes it as the most successful secession movement in India, the secession of the elite from the real India. All very stirring while you read it, but like much of what Ms Roy writes, on careful thought, especially after a night's sleep, not very convincing.

She starts off well, mentioning how the rich countries became rich simply because they had colonies to exploit, slavery to go by, and the option of exterminating whole populations in 'other' places. Ergo, today's new elite in India, with no foreign 'colonies' to explot to reach where their developed counterparts are, will do to their own underpriveleged countrymen what the colonial masters did to us earlier. Despite our being a democracy, about which she has some more suitably acidic words to say.

I have none of the mastery on words she has, but know this. Even the most moronic calculation shows us that to expect to reach 'first world' levels of consumption for material consumption would be foolish and doomed, to say the least. In fact, funnily enough, this apparent disparity is something the developed countries have used frequently to talk about our potential, rather than Indian's, or Indian companies. Thus you have a chocolate major comparing Indian's per capita consumption of chocolate with Europe (a difference of 54 times) , while the soft drink majors never tire of the difference in consumption of soft drinks servings India had as compared with the US. And how an increase of just 5 servings per capita would be this humungous opportunity..

Now I am partial to chocolates, and confess, that on that one scale, I am probably on par with developed country slobs. But on every other parameter, be it energy, consumer goods, or mineral resources, I doubt we will need to get any closer than a fifth of developed country levels, to achieve qualified success in our attempt to be called a success.

A lot of the reasons are cultural, in the form of our eating habits, an innate culture of being savers in everything, an abhorrence of wastage beyond a point, and the simple fact that deprivation is till high enough to make anyone think twice before doing really 'conspicuous consumption', as we call it. A very thin minority might indulge themselves, but it shd remain that, a very narrow minority.

Sure, even getting to a 1/5th level of consumption of the developed nations will take a terrible toll on the environment, but I really don't see how much we can pay for that anymore. I mean, first, as Ms Roy pointedly writes, we get our ourselves exploited to help the other half get rich, and now we keep ourselves poor to keep everyone safe? Sounds like a pretty poor slogan to me.

Luckily, I think it would be a reasonable hope to estimate that things could pan out differently. As in, developed countries consumption actually comes down, while ours goes up. The keenness with which energy conservation is finally catching up everywhere, and of course the fact that we will be increasing our own consumption much more efficiently as compared to the other half, means that things donot need to get as bad as they might have.

Giving Ms Roy a very good reason to write about a suitable world accordingly.
So here's hoping to 'inclusive' growth for all.

1 comment:

Vishwas said...

Interesting points, consumer. And I really appreciate your inputs for my project.