6 August 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) The urban migrant and the ‘ritual’ tug of home-
- The migrant worker, when in crisis, is not seeking material help from his family in the village; they are, anyway, much poorer than he is.
- What disturbs him profoundly at such times is the fear of dying alone with nobody to perform the rites for him.
UNEMPLOYMENT AS PART OF LIFE:
- It is considerations of this kind, more than financial hardship, that prompt single migrant workers to leave for their rural homes.
- The Indian labouring classes are much less rattled(disturbed) by joblessness as unemployment is a frequent visitor at their door.
- This is clearly an outcome of the fact that 93% of our economy is informal.
- Ironically, the Industrial Disputes Act encourages this trend.
- It mandates employers to pay severance wages, and other benefits, only if workers are hired, and on the rolls, continuously for over 248 days.
- This law has had the unintended consequence of making it attractive for management to periodically flip(remove) labour around.
- As a result, only a minuscule minority stays employed for long. Most other workers suffer joblessness for long periods.
- Yet, it took just two days of the lockdown for a large number of male workers to start the trudge(start walking) to their respective villages.
FORGET THE INDUSTRIAL GLUE:
- When faced with an imminent(immediate) threat to life, the tug of home and family is much stronger for the migrant worker than the industrial glue that comes with an urban occupation.
- This job could be well paid and the worker may have even held it for some time.
- There are no laboratory conditions to settle this issue, but a comparative approach might help.
- In Surat in 1979, when there was a widespread fear that a satellite was going to fall smack in the city centre, causing untold deaths, a large number of migrants there left for their villages.
- Again, in Surat, in 1994, the plague scare prompted over 6,00,000 to leave their work stations for the railway station.
- In both these instances, jobs were not threatened, but there was this perceived fear of death.
- On the other hand, when demonetisation happened in 2016, only a few migrant workers left because this distress was primarily economic, without a threat to life.
- Later, in 2020, when COVID-19 started killing people, there was a radical shift; now, men without families went home because they did not want to die alone.
- We missed paying attention to this fact in the latest pandemic exodus(departure) because it was accompanied by an economic downturn.
- It also satisfied our middle-class mentality because, from our angle of vision, economic lenses provide the right focal point.
- For the better off, even a temporary job loss can be traumatic(shocking).
- It is not uncommon, under these conditions, for a middle class person to turn to the family, as the first port of call.
DATA FROM SURVEY:
- A 2018 CBRE survey shows that 80% of young Indian millennials live with their parents.
- Further, a YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey conducted in 2020 tells us that they depend on their parents’ real estate property and savings to give them a start.
- No wonder, Census figures show that joint families are growing, albeit(although) slowly, in urban India, but declining in the villages.
- But the short, bullet point is that unemployment does not send migrant workers to their villages because their families there are in no position to help them financially.
- What brings them home is the dread of dying on alien(foreign) soil without the necessary prayers.
THEATRE OF DEATH:
- Forced by poverty, workers can take economic hardship on their chin(facing the impact) and stomach at the same time.
- They may have a face for radio and a voice for silent films, but in the theatre of survival, they move adeptly, playing their part.
- It is in the theatre of death that they need their families to provide the props(support).
- If about 90% of slum dwellers in Dharavi stayed put, post lockdown, it was because most of them lived with their wives and children and did not fear a death without rituals.
- Newspapers were quick to notice that it was mostly men walking on highways, or leaving from train stations and bus stands.
- Though the image of vulnerable women and children in the midst of all this is much more wrenching(hurtful), their numbers were not that many.
- This is not a trivial(small) observation because women actually form 55% (or, the majority) of rural migrants to urban India.
- If there were fewer of them on highways it was because arranged marriages have brought most of them to the city, not a flimsy job prospect.
- This makes their transition more permanent because they now generally have properly anchored urban husbands.
- These women, in the fullness of time, make a home, birth a family and nobody in that unit need any longer fear dying alone and un-prayed.
- On the other hand, rural men migrate with tentative employment prospects and it will be a long time before they can, if at all, imagine getting their families over.
- Of course, a stable job, with entitlements, would let them live that dream.
- Till then, the thought of death and a frantic bus ticket home will always be paired.
- Even so, despite economic uncertainties, and underemployment, about 72% of slum dwellings are owned, not rented.
- This shows the overwhelming preference the poor have for family life, only if they could afford one.
- When urban workers rush to their rural homes, it is because they fear a death where nobody prays for them more than a life where nobody pays them.
2) Taking nuclear vulnerabilities seriously-
- Seventy-five years ago, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was destroyed by one single atomic bomb. Three days later, a second bomb destroyed Nagasaki.
- Those two bombs killed over 2,00,000 people, some of them instantaneously, and others within five months.
- Another 2,00,000 people or more who survived the bombings of these two cities, most of them injured, have been called the hibakusha.
- Because of the long-lasting effects of radiation exposure as well as the mental trauma they underwent, the plight(pain) of these survivors has been difficult.
- While Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been the last two cities to be destroyed by nuclear weapons, we cannot be sure that they will be the last.
- Since 1945, the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have armed themselves with nuclear weapons that have much more destructive power in comparison to those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
DAMAGE AND VULNERABILITY:
- Over 1,26,000 nuclear weapons have been built since the beginning of the atomic age.
- Over 2,000 of them have been used in nuclear tests, above and below the ground, to demonstrate their explosive power, causing grave and long-lasting damage to the environment and public health.
- But this damage is nothing compared to what might happen if some of the existing weapons are used against civilian populations.
- An appreciation of the scale of the potential damage and a realisation that nuclear weapons could be launched at any moment against any target around the world should instill a sense of vulnerability in all of us.
- To appreciate why we are vulnerable, we should start by realising that there is no realistic way to protect ourselves against nuclear weapons, whether they are used deliberately, inadvertently(by mistake), or accidentally.
- The invention of ballistic missiles at the end of the 1950s, with their great speed of delivery, has made it impossible to intercept nuclear weapons once they are launched.
- Neither fallout shelters nor ballistic missile defence systems have succeeded in negating this vulnerability.
- Nuclear weapon states are targets of other nuclear weapon states, of course, but non-nuclear weapon states are vulnerable as well.
Deterrence, in general, is the control of behaviour that is effected because the potential offender does not consider the behaviour worth risking for fear of its consequences. A “deterrent effect” of sanctions is the preventive effect of the sanction(s) resulting from the fear that the sanction(s) will be implemented.
THE PROBLEMS OF DETERRENCE:
- Nuclear weapon states have reacted to this vulnerability by coming up with a comforting idea: that the use of nuclear weapons is impossible because of deterrence.
- Nuclear weapons are so destructive that no country would use them, because such use would invite retaliation(reaction) in kind. That was the idea of deterrence.
- Deterrence enthusiasts claim that nuclear weapons do not just protect countries against use of nuclear weapons by others, but even prevent war and promote stability.
- These claims do not hold up to evidence. Nuclear threats have not always produced fear and, in turn, fear has not always induced caution.
- To the contrary, nuclear threats in some cases have produced anger, and anger can trigger a drive to escalate, as was the case with Fidel Castro during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
- Moreover, the apparent efficacy of deterrence in some cases may have been due to the more credible prospect of retaliation with conventional weapons.
- Countries with nuclear weapons have in fact gone to war quite often, even with other countries with nuclear weapons, albeit(although) in a limited fashion or through proxies.
- Countries, however, might not always show such restraint. Nor should nuclear deterrence be considered stable.
- Strategic planners routinely use worst-case assumptions about the intentions and capabilities of other countries to argue for the acquisition of greater destructive capabilities.
- It drives endless upgrades of nuclear arsenals, and offering a rationale for new countries to acquire nuclear weapons.
- Implicitly, however, all nuclear weapon states have admitted to the possibility that deterrence could fail: they have made plans for using nuclear weapons, in effect, preparing to fight nuclear war.
THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL:
- A related illusion concerns the controllability of nuclear weapons. In the real world, it is not possible for planners to have complete control.
- However, the desire to believe in the perfect controllability and safety of nuclear weapons creates overconfidence, which is dangerous.
- Overconfidence, as many scholars studying safety will testify, is more likely to lead to accidents and possibly to the use of nuclear weapons.
- In several historical instances, what prevented the use of nuclear weapons was not control practices but either their failure or factors outside institutional control.
- The most famous of these cases is the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
- There are likely many more cases during which the world came close to nuclear war but because of the secrecy that surrounds nuclear weapons, we might never know.
- If deterrence has not prevented nuclear war so far, what has?
- While a comprehensive answer to this question will necessarily involve diverse and contingent factors, one essential element in key episodes is just plain luck.
- This is, again, best illustrated by the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis, where nearly four decades of scholarship attest to the crucial role of luck.
While humanity has luckily survived 75 years without experiencing nuclear war, can one expect luck to last indefinitely?
3) How to pay for the stimulus-
- Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and his colleague Praveen Chakravarty have, in these pages, written on the appropriate policy response to the currently depressed state of the economy.
- They present greater public spending as the sine qua non(prerequisite) of such a revival, and they are absolutely correct in this diagnosis.
- Greater public spending will increase the fiscal deficit and this expansion has to be financed.
- Theoretically it can be financed by higher taxes.
- However, when the economy is in a recession, this is usually not in the reckoning(option) even though the balanced-budget multiplier is one, i.e., output expands by exactly the same amount as the increase in government spending.
DEBT VS. MONEY FINANCING:
- So, what are the options? They are: issuing debt to the public, and borrowing from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), termed ‘money financing’ as it increases the money supply.
- Dr. Singh and Mr. Chakravarty plump(choose) for increased debt. While they do not rule out of court money financing, they suggest that it may be imprudent(not practical) to do so.
- Instead, they recommend borrowing from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, it is not clear that this is a superior strategy.
- The media has recently reported some economists responding to the suggestion of money financing with the Friedman-esque quip “there ain’t no free lunch”.
- But it may be mentioned that there is no free lunch in the case of debt financing either.
- Not only have the moneys to be repaid, they will have to be paid back in hard currency. This would involve India having to earn hard currency by stepping up exports.
- If a stimulus of approximately 10% of the GDP is envisaged, with exports at 25% of the GDP, it would imply stepping up exports by close to 50%. This would be a herculean(major) task under present circumstances.
- Indian exports have been faring poorly since 2014. Since then, there have been multiple shocks to global output and trade.
ISSUES WITH BORROWING:
- Three more issues are relevant when considering borrowing from the World Bank and the IMF.
- First, there is the issue of conditionalities. There is no reason to oppose conditionalities on principle but it is not obvious what conditionalities will come along with the loan.
- Second, a loan is bound to take some time to be negotiated, taxing the energies of a government that ought to be engaged in the day to day battle with COVID-19.
- Third, external debt is truly national which, arguably, government bonds held by the country’s private sector are not.
- The standard economic argument against money financing is that it is inflationary.
- However, whether a fiscal expansion is inflationary or not is related more to the state of the economy than the medium of its financing.
- When resources are unemployed, output may be expected to expand without inflation.
- As COVID-19 has shocked output downwards, unemployed resources must now exist.
- There is no reasoned case for denying ourselves the option of money financing to take us back to pre-COVID-19 levels of output and employment.