23 Apr 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) The way forward-
It is difficult at this stage to accurately assess the cost of the disruption in economic activities due to the lockdown, but it will be severe. As reported in this paper, according to some estimates, the 33-day lockdown in this financial year, April 1 to May 3, which essentially translates to a loss of 23 full working days, will lead to an economic contraction this financial year.
To be sure, the government has relaxed the lockdown restrictions on some activities post April 20. But a pick-up in these segments is likely to be muted(quiet and soft), driven in part by disruptions in supply chains, labour and logistical issues and the fall in end-consumer demand.
Even after the lockdown is fully lifted, economic activities are unlikely to return to normal in the near term. The impact of job and income losses, especially those in the informal sector, consumer behaviour —discretionary(voluntary) spending may take a hit — risk aversion (strong dislike) by firms and banks, and continuation of social distancing norms, among others, will determine how economic activity shapes up after the lockdown.
Much will also depend on the depth and breadth of the policy response.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has undertaken a series of measures aimed at easing the economic and financial fallout. However, the central government’s response, so far, has been limited — India has one of the strictest lockdowns in the world with one of the thinnest covers of social protection.
The first government package aimed at ensuring a steady supply of food grains and easing of cash woes of vulnerable sections. But with investment activity and exports expected to remain depressed, and the economy likely to be largely reliant on government spending and restricted household consumption, more fiscal support is needed.
There are fiscal concerns. The combination of a sharp slowdown in growth and government tax revenues will itself push up the fiscal deficit beyond what has been pegged to maintain current levels of spending. Add to this the requirement to support the economy and the deficit will widen further. The severity of the slowdown necessitates more government support.
(TRIVIA- The difference between total revenue and total expenditure of the government is termed as fiscal deficit. It is an indication of the total borrowings needed by the government)
In fact, government spending may well have to be front-loaded. Sectors which have been hit the hardest such as MSMEs, airlines, hotels, exports will have to be provided relief. Failure to do so will result in job losses, and a rise in bankruptcies, throttling(choking) the financial system, making even a gradual recovery more difficult.
The Centre may want to keep the money for the unforseen conditions that may yet arise, and may favour opting for several rounds of measures, calibrating(measuring) its response as the situation unfolds(opens up).
But it is also necessary for it to spell out a broad strategy on how it intends to support the economy. Despite fiscal concerns, more government support is needed to mitigate(reduce) economic fallout. Centre must spell out a strategy.
The policy response to deal with this public health crisis requires coordinated action at both Central and state levels.
2) Pay the piper-
Earlier this month, France became the first nation to invoke an EU copyright reform requiring payment for news snippets(a small piece or brief extract) reproduced from local publishers, but Google retaliated by threatening to withdraw news services from France.
PUSHING OFF THE SEAT:
Digital platforms could be pushed off the catbird seat(sitting in the catbird seat means one is in a position of power) if regulatory moves afoot(happening) in Australia and France find resonance(impacts) in other countries.
For over a decade, they have leveraged(taken advantage) news provided by the media to drive traffic to their search engines and social hubs, and simultaneously leveraged their dominance to avoid paying for the content. They have argued that they send back clicks to the media, which can be monetised, but the inequality is stark.
Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg reports that almost half of the online ad spend in his country goes to Google, about a quarter to Facebook and the rest to all publishers combined. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had sought a voluntary code to ensure more equity, but the conversation languished(weakened), and then the devastating effect of the coronavirus pandemic on ad revenues of the press lent a sense of urgency.
Now, the ACCC will submit a draft mandatory code to legislators by July, forcing platforms to share ad revenue, pay for original content, and give publishers access to user data, ranking algorithms and policies for displaying news.
Earlier this month, France became the first nation to invoke an EU copyright reform requiring payment for news snippets reproduced from local publishers, but Google retaliated(responded) by threatening to withdraw news services from France.
The competition watchdog, which believes that this constitutes misuse of market dominance, has forced it to negotiate with news providers while it investigates further. In 2014, Google had made good a similar threat against Spain, and does not offer its news product in Spain even now.
ERASING AN OLD INEQUALITY:
While the financial crisis in media has brought matters to a head, saving the press is not the principal concern, since the Australian government has already extended support. This is about market morality(the extent to which an action is right or wrong), and the objective is to erase an old inequality which has allowed platforms to transform themselves into trillion-dollar companies, literally at the expense of the media, whose content drives traffic to them.
Generators of news and creators of opinion should be paid for their pains not because they have an absolute right to life, but because if they died, platforms would fall back on content generated on social media by individuals, interest groups and communities, and the problem of fake news would be amplified.
While moves to make platforms pay for news are obviously about market morality, they are finally about the health of societies. Regulators in Australia and France show the way: Dominant digital platforms should not freeload on media content.
3) Ambedka in our crisis-
As the country faces the coronavirus crisis, there are conversations about the new post-pandemic social order and the circumstances that would shape it. Only a few days ago, we remembered B R Ambedkar on his 129th birth anniversary. Today, it is apt to look again at the dominant social order and the institutions of power, patronage, property and prestige that it has created.
It is sad to see news of caste-related atrocities(extremely wicked or cruel act) even during the current crisis, when the society is expected to show social solidarity. The news of a Dalit couple being beaten mercilessly went viral recently. They were assaulted because they refused to sell the land that was rightfully theirs.
A video was made of the incident, with caste-related slurs(abuses) hurled(hit) on the couple. Making such a video and spreading hatred requires audacious(bold) belligerence(aggressive) on the part of the oppressor. This is the result of a social process, and political intervention alone cannot address this prevailing(ongoing) sentiment.
MASQUERADING AS SOCIAL DISTANCING:
Social distancing was suggested as one of the precautionary steps to contain the virus. However, in a society like ours, where traditional social prejudices and hierarchies are deeply embedded(deeply rooted), discriminatory practices can masquerade(pose) as social distancing. Thankfully, voices emerged from the depressed classes from all over the world and the WHO has had to finally replace the phrase “social distancing” with “physical distancing”.
EMERGING DALIT NARRATIVE:
This is an opportune moment for scholars, thinkers and activists from the Dalit community to brainstorm on a roadmap for the emerging Dalit narrative. Raising difficult questions is the need of the hour. Ambedkar himself has not become a subject of intellectual inquisitiveness(state of raising questions).
Restricting his colossal(big) personality merely to a maker of the Constitution or as a leader of the depressed community is a massive dent(hole) to his legacy. His scholarship and deeply meaningful interventions in gender studies, anthropology and economics must also be studied and pursued(followed) dispassionately.
Policymakers and intellectuals from the Dalit community and beyond must together evolve a mechanism to undertake robust(deep) research and produce scholarships on the relatively unexplored dimensions of Ambedkar’s thought.
On the political front as well, April 14 (Ambedkar’s birth anniversary) and December 6 (his death anniversary) must be occasions for more than rhetorical symbolism. The so-called Ambedkarite politics is losing its sheen(shine) and traction among the subaltern masses(someone who has been marginalized or oppressed). Parties with a focus on individuals and families like the BSP and LJP have no meaningful contribution left to make.
The future of Dalit assertion needs to be primarily focused on representation — real-time representation at key decision-making positions, which has not happened despite making affirmative action a constitutional commitment. Justice C S Karnan, a Dalit judge, was reprimanded(scolded) by the court, after he made accusations of caste discrimination and corruption against fellow judges.
On the other hand, no questions were raised when a group of Supreme Court judges came out and held a press conference against the prevailing processes in the apex court. It is the social capital of the upper caste, under the modern euphemism(substitute) of a “network”, that acts as a safety net emerging from caste-based camaraderie(friendship). The mainstream media has the same story. It is next to impossible to locate a subaltern voice in the fourth pillar(media).
There is an urgent need to get over the phenomenon of “behalfism( policy of doing things on behalf of others)”. No one is entitled to speak on someone else’s behalf. For effective representation, having a voice is a prerequisite(necessary).
For many years, the cause of the subaltern communities was under the custodianship(authority) of the upper-class elite. Let us resolve, in the month of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, to ensure social diversity at our workplaces. Even amid pandemic, caste atrocities continue. Representation is key.